DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh's prime minister on Monday visited a stadium where the bodies of the victims from the weekend attack in Bangladesh's capital were taken, as security officials search for evidence and the possible masterminds behind the attack.
The incident that began as a hostage-taking on an upscale restaurant left 28 dead, including six attackers and 20 of the hostages. The government has denied the Islamic State group's claim of responsibility for the attack.
Police have released photographs of the bodies of five attackers, along with their first names: Akash, Badhon, Bikash, Don and Ripon. The men belonged to the banned domestic group Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, and their families hadn't heard from them in months, according to police. Asked whether they might also have had Islamic State ties, Police Inspector General A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque said authorities were investigating that possibility.
Despite the police saying IS links were being investigated, the home minister refuted the possibility that the Islamic State group directed the attack from abroad. The government says the extremist Sunni Muslim group based in Syria and Iraq has no presence in the country, and in the past has suggested that any claims of responsibility for violence waged in the South Asian country are simply opportunistic attempts at grabbing global attention.
"They are all Bangladeshis. They are from rich families, they have good educational background," Khan said of the attackers. One surviving suspect was detained when paramilitary forces ended the 10-hour standoff Saturday morning, and authorities said he was being interrogated.
The siege marked an escalation in the militant violence that has hit Bangladesh with increasing frequency. Most of the attacks in the past several months have involved machete-wielding men singling out individual activists, foreigners and religious minorities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has blamed her political opponents of trying to create chaos by backing domestic militants.
"Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such an act," Hasina said Saturday. "They do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism."
Hasina on Monday paid her respects to the victims by visiting an army stadium where the bodies were kept. The bodies would be handed over to the families soon after, officials said.
The 20 hostages who were killed included nine Italians, seven Japanese, three Bangladeshis and one Indian teenager. Two police officers were killed by the attackers, and 13 people were rescued when commandos stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery on Saturday morning. Another 25 officers and one civilian were wounded, and some of the rescued hostages had injuries. There was no information on their conditions.
The attack was the worst in the recent series of attacks by radical Islamists in the moderate, mostly Muslim nation of 160 million. Unlike the previous attacks, the assailants were well-prepared and heavily armed with guns, bombs and sharp objects that police later said were used to torture some of the 35 captives.
That the attackers targeted a popular restaurant in the heart of the diplomatic quarter of Bangladesh's capital signaled a change in tactics. The restaurant overlooking a lake serves Spanish food and is patronized by residents of Gulshan, an affluent neighborhood where most of the foreign embassies are located.
The hostages were asked to recite verses from the Quran, to prove themselves Muslim, according to a witness. Those who passed were allowed to eat. Those who failed were tortured and slain.
Western embassies issued travel warnings to their citizens, advising those in the country to be vigilant and avoid places frequented by foreigners in the diplomatic zone. The U.S. Embassy also urged its citizens and personnel to avoid traveling on foot or in open vehicles exposed to potential attackers.
In its claim of responsibility, the Islamic State group said its operatives had targeted the citizens of "Crusader countries" in the attack, warning that citizens of such countries would not be safe "as long as their warplanes kill Muslims." The statement was circulated in a manner consistent with past IS claims of responsibility.
Associated Press writers Katy Daigle and Nirmala George in New Delhi and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.