Bangladesh police arrest suspected mastermind of Dhaka restaurant attack

Counterterrorism police in Bangladesh have arrested another suspected mastermind of a July attack on a restaurant in the capital, officials said.

Authorities have killed 40 suspects since the July 1 attack, including a Canadian man

Policemen stand guard on July 3, 2016, along a road leading to the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O'Kitchen Restaurant after gunmen attacked, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Authorities announced Saturday they had arrested another suspected mastermind in the deadly attack. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Counterterrorism police in Bangladesh have arrested another suspected mastermind of a July attack on a restaurant in the capital, officials said.

The suspect, Jahangir Alam, was picked up on Friday night in a raid in Tangail district, 120 kilometres north of the capital, Dhaka, said Monirul Islam, head of the Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police. Details of the arrest procedures were not clear.

The July 1 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery, a popular restaurant frequented by foreigners and wealthy Bangladeshis, left 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, dead.

Five young men belonging to the domestic militant group Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, stormed the restaurant, sprayed bullets and threw grenades, and slaughtered the hostages.

Bloody crackdown

The attack by the group, which is thought to be inspired by ISIS militants, demonstrated the rising threat of radical Islam in the South Asian country governed by largely secular laws.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has denied that the Sunni extremist group has any presence in the country.

Since the July assault, authorities have reinforced a crackdown on militants and killed about 40 suspects, including what they say was one of the masterminds of the restaurant attack. No major attacks have been reported since July, with authorities claiming success in their drive against hard liners.

The restaurant killings followed several years of smaller attacks targeting scores of individuals considered by militants as enemies of radical ideology, including atheists, writers, bloggers, religious minorities and foreigners.

The 35-year-old Alam, who also used other names including Rajib and Gandhi, was wanted by police who considered him one of the planners of the attack. Police said Alam had a close connection with Tamim Chowdhury, the Canadian of Bangladesh origin, who was killed in August in a raid near Dhaka. Police said Chowdhury was the main planner of the group.

On Jan. 6, Nurul Islam Marzan, another top suspect in the restaurant attack, was killed in a police raid in Dhaka.

Islam said they would interrogate Alam, and a magistrate in Dhaka granted police eight days to keep him for questioning.

On Tuesday, the owners of the Holey Artisan Bakery, which had been taped off by police since July, reopened the restaurant in a different location.