DHAKA (Reuters) - A gang of Islamist militants staged a bank robbery in Bangladesh last month in which nine people were killed in order to fund their operations, police said on Wednesday.
At least 10 members of the al Qaeda-inspired Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) robbed the branch of state-run Bangladesh Commerce Bank on April 21, in Ashulia, 20 km north of the capital Dhaka.
They killed the manager of the bank to get the key to the vault, and managed to pocket 700,000 taka ($8,860) from the cash counters before the alarm was raised by the loudspeaker from a nearby mosque.
The gang detonated a bomb as they fled, chased by customers and onlookers who beat one ABT member to death. A total of nine men were killed in the incident.
In February, ABT claimed responsibility for the killing of blogger Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladesh origin who had condemned what he saw as religious extremism. His killing has also claimed by al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
"The aim of the robbery was to raise fund to expand and strength militancy activities inside the country by ABT," said Muhammad Habibur Rahman, the chief of Dhaka police.
So far, seven of 10 have been arrested, he said.
"After extensive interrogation we have been confirmed that all of them were active members of ABT, as they confessed," he said.
He said police also found several documents and books related to militancy at their homes.
Police suspect ABT of involvement in the killing of two other bloggers in 2013. Police say the group follows the ideology of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American cleric who worked in Yemen with Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula before he was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
It aims to force Bangladesh into following a harder line strand of Islam.
(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Alison Williams)