Last Friday evening, just before 9pm, seven heavily armed terrorists stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery, an upscale café popular with expats, diplomats and wealthy locals in the Gulshan area of Dhaka.
The neighborhood is considered one of the most secure in Bangladesh, attracting embassies and high commissions to locate there.
Only a lucky few managed to escape in the initial moments of the attack. Most of the 20 to 25 guests and a similar number of employees were taken hostage. Attempts by Bangladeshi police to enter the siege were met with gunfire and grenade explosions, killing two officers and injuring others. Security personnel attempted to negotiate with the terrorists, without success.
The siege went on for 11 hours before Bangladesh Army para-commandos finally stormed the building using armored personnel carriers.
The operation, codenamed “Thunderbolt,” recovered 13 hostages – including three foreigners. But it was too late for most. The terrorists had already killed up to 20 foreign nationals – including nine Italians, seven Japanese, an Indian, an American of Bangladeshi origin and two Bangladeshis. After being shot, their bodies were hacked with machetes and knives.
The security forces killed six gunmen and captured one alive.
ISIS waited a few hours before claiming responsibility for the attack through its official Amaq news agency. Amaq continued to post updates on the attack throughout the night, along with pictures from inside the restaurant – in all likelihood taken by the perpetrators and then digitally transmitted to their handlers.
The pro-ISIS hacker group Sons of Caliphate Army also published a poster promoting the attack.
However, the next day, Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said none of the hostage takers were part of ISIS, nor any other international terrorist organization for that matter. Rather, they were home-grown members of the banned JMB.
So who were the attackers?
Less than 24 hours after the siege ended, ISIS published pictures of five of the terrorists. No information was provided about the killers’ real identity – only their noms de guerre. But here’s what we know of the attackers:
1. Nibras Islam
Nibras Islam was identified as one of the assailants from the photo posted by ISIS matching his Facebook wall, which has since been deactivated. Nibras went missing from Dhaka in February. He studied at the Turkish Hope School and then the North South University, a leading private university in Dhaka. From there, he went on to pursue higher studies at Monash University’s Malaysia campus.
2. Meer Saameh Mubasheer
Meer Saameh Mubasheer was a class 11 or A-level student when he too went missing from Dhaka at the end of February. He’d been on his way to a coaching center, according to Facebook posts that were widely circulated. One of the posts at the time he went missing was from Mahamudur Rahman. “I am just astonished,” Rahman wrote on July 2, “‘because this was the same guy! He is Meer Saameh Mubasheer”. Unconfirmed sources say he studied at Scholastica, a top English medium school in Dhaka.
3. Rohan Imtiaz
The third assailant has been identified as Rohan Imitiaz. He’d also been missing for the last few months according to a Facebook post from his father, Imtiaz Khan Babul, on June 21. He shared an old photo of the two of them, asking his son where he was and pleading for him to return. Rohan’s father is said to be a Dhaka city Awami League (ruling party of Bangladesh) leader. According to some reports, Rohan also used to be an A-level student of the Scholastica English medium school in Dhaka.
4. Khairul Islam
Khairul Islam was the son of a day laborer from Bogra district, Rajshshi division, in northern Bangladesh, and studied at a madrassa. He’d been missing for the past year. Bangladeshi police believe he was involved in at least three murders in northern Bangladesh during the last seven months. Several ISIS-claimed attacks – targeted assassinations – have taken place in northern Bangladesh during this period.
And the other three?
Social media is abuzz with talk of two more attackers being identified: Raiyan Minhaj and Andaleeb Ahmed. There has been no confirmation of this from mainstream media nor the Bangladesh government.
5. Raiyan Minhaj
Raiyan Minhaj graduated in Mechanical Engineering from the Monash University campus in Malaysia last December.
6. Andaleeb Ahmed
Andaleeb Ahmed also graduated from the Monash University campus in Malaysia. No further details are available beyond the many social media posts matching his picture with one of the photos of the attackers published by ISIS.
7. The Mysterious Professor
There’s a missing link in the incident. Sections of the Bangladeshi media have reported sightings of a bald man, who was one of the hostages – yet he appeared remarkably comfortable in the otherwise extremely tense situation.
Screenshots from video footage during the siege show the man smoking on the first floor of the café during the early morning of July 2, with two terrorists standing behind him. The bald man, along with his companions, were later rescued by the security personnel.
The man was later identified as Hasnat R Karim, a professor at Dhaka’s North South University. He’d gone to celebrate his son’s birthday with his family at the Holey Artisan Bakery.
In the second part of this analysis, to be published next week, we will explain how this attack was all too predictable given our recent analysis of the ‘new emir’ of ISIS, which we forecast in January of this year and was formally announced in April.
We will also explore the geopolitical ramifications of this attack, and the high probability of future incidents in Bangladesh, due to the government’s refusal to acknowledge the growing domestic threat posed by ISIS.
Phill Hynes and Hrishiraj Bhattacharjee’s probe of the Dhaka terrorist attack continues tomorrow with analysis of ISIS’s stronghold in Bangladesh as its bridgehead to Southeast Asia. Hynes and Bhattacharjee areanalysts for ISS Risk, a frontier and emerging markets political risk management company covering North, South and Southeast Asia from its headquarters in Hong Kong.