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Hostages Rescued from Bangladesh Attack Questioned as Country Mourns



Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pays homage in front of the coffins of the victims who were killed in the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery and the O’Kitchen Restaurant, during a memorial ceremony in Dhaka, July 4, 2016.

Investigators are questioning some of the hostages who were rescued from Saturday morning’s attack on an upscale restaurant in the Bangladeshi capitol of Dhaka that left 20 patrons and two police officers dead.

Officials say five of the 13 hostages rescued are still being held. It was not clear if the five are suspects or being questioned simply because authorities believe they could provide information that may be helpful in determining the origins of the attack.

Bangladeshi police chief A.K.M. Shahidul Haque said Monday that two men, including a suspected militant, are being interrogated. He declined to say whether the two men had been among those counted as hostages but acknowledged they were being treated in a hospital for injuries.

Meantime, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid her respects Monday at a ceremony honoring those killed during the siege.

The memorial featured flags and ambassadors representing those killed who were from India, Italy, Japan and the United States. Hasina spoke with family members of the victims.

The ceremony came on the second of two days of national mourning.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, but any direct connection to the militant group has not been confirmed, and government officials deny IS involvement.

Bangladesh’s home minister said Sunday the seven attackers, six of whom were killed, had absolutely no connection with Islamic State.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said instead the jihadists were members of a homegrown militant group — Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB — which has been banned in the country for more than a decade.

National police chief Shahidul Hoque said authorities are investigating the possibility the attackers had ties with IS.

Kerry calls Hasina

Secretary of State John Kerry called Prime Minister Hasina Sunday to express condolences and offer support. A State Department release said Kerry “encouraged the government of Bangladesh to conduct its investigation in accordance with the highest international standards.”

He also offered assistance from U.S. law enforcement, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Bangladeshi police released photos and the first names of five of the six attackers who were killed. Police said their families had not been in contact with them for months.

The government has long insisted IS has no presence in the country. Prime Minister Hasina’s government has blamed a string of attacks in the country on her political foes, saying they back militant groups in the country in an attempt to create chaos.

Among those killed are nine Italians, seven Japanese nationals, two Bangladeshis, one Indian and one American. Three of the victims were students at universities in the United States. Two Bangladeshi police officers were also killed early in the siege. Security forces rescued 13 hostages.

A U.N. spokesman said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hopes those behind the attack will be brought to justice and that regional and international efforts to prevent and fight terrorism must be intensified.

String of terror attacks

Bangladesh has seen a number of attacks in recent months, mostly targeting secular bloggers, atheists and religious minorities. IS terrorists and al-Qaida in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS) have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks.

The United States declared AQIS a “foreign terrorist organization” Thursday and called its leader, Asim Umar, a “specially designated global terrorist.”

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of the group on the Indian subcontinent in 2014 and Umar has appeared in al-Qaida publications as the leader of the Indian offshoot. Umar is believed to be based in Pakistan, but was born in India in the mid-1970s.

Walter Metuth

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