DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Security officials searched on Sunday for evidence and the possible masterminds of the weekend hostage-taking in an upscale restaurant in Bangladesh's capital. The government has denied the Islamic State group's claim of responsibility for the attack that left 28 dead, including six attackers and 20 of the hostages.
Police 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 links with the Islamic State group, 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 could have been behind the attack. Bangladesh's government insists 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.
The 10-hour standoff that paramilitary forces ended Saturday morning 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.
On Sunday morning, the first of two days of national mourning for the victims, police were blocking all access to streets near Holey Artisan Bakery, where the siege occurred. Investigators from both Bangladesh and Japan visited the restaurant to collect evidence.
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.
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 Amaq news agency, affiliated with IS, also published photos of five smiling young men Saturday and identified them as the restaurant attackers, according to the SITE Intelligence Service, which monitors jihadi online activity. The men in those photographs appeared to match the bodies shown in police images of the dead assailants in the restaurant after the hostage crisis ended.
Amaq identified the five by noms de guerre indicating they were all Bangladeshis. It said the fighters used "knives, cleavers, assault rifles and hand grenades," and had "verified" the identities of the hostages in order to spare the Muslims and kill the foreigners.