Image: Policemen patrol outside the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O’Kitchen Restaurant as others inspect the site after gunmen attacked, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 3, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File photo
By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladeshi security forces killed 11 members of an Islamist militant group on Saturday, most of them dying in a three-hour gun battle on the outskirts of the capital.
Authorities said the dead were believed be members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), blamed for an attack on a cafe in Dhaka in July in which 22 people were killed, mostly foreigners.
The militants were killed in three separate raids on hideouts on the outskirts of Dhaka, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters.
Seven militants were killed in one raid after police were tipped off that the JMB’s Dhaka unit chief and his associates were there.
“We requested them to surrender but they opened fire at our officers instead and also exploded grenades, which prompted them to retaliate,” Khan said, adding the three-hour gun battle left seven militants dead.
“The dead militants include JMB’s Dhaka military commander Akash, which is his organisational name. We are trying to find out his real identity.”
Explosives, weapons and machetes were recovered from all three hideouts and three police officers were injured, police said.
The July 1 attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter was claimed by Islamic State militants and was one of the most brazen in Bangladesh, which has been hit by a spate of killings of liberals and members of religious minorities in the past year.
Police have killed more than three dozen suspected militants in shootouts since the Dhaka cafe attack, including its presumed mastermind, Bangladesh-born Canadian citizen Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury.
Chowdhury is reported to have been the subject of a profile in an Islamic State journal called Dabiq that identified him as its top operative in Bangladesh. The Syria-based militant group also published “selfie” photos of the cafe attackers on its propaganda channels while the hostage crisis was continuing.
The government has consistently denied the presence in the country of any transnational militant organisation such as al Qaeda or Islamic State.
But police believe that JMB, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, was involved in organising the cafe attack.
The targeting of foreigners could hurt foreign investment in the poor South Asian economy, whose $28 billion garments export industry is the world’s second largest. Nine Italians, seven Japanese, an American and an Indian were among those killed in the July attack.
In the past year, al Qaeda and Islamic State have made competing claims over the killings of liberals and religious minorities in the mostly Muslim nation of 160 million.
While authorities blame the violence on domestic militants, security experts say the scale and sophistication of the cafe attack suggested links to a trans-national network.
(Editing by Stephen Powell)
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