NEW DELHI —
After Thursday's deadly attack by suspected Islamists near a mosque in Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands had gathered for Eid prayers, the country's information minister says the government is not ruling out the possibility of a link between home grown militant groups and transnational terror outfits.
So far top Bangladesh officials have dismissed claims of responsibility by Islamic State and al-Qaida for a surge of militant violence in the past year that has mostly targeted liberals and minorities, instead insisting that local militants or political opposition groups are responsible.
The latest attacks occurred Thursday during Eid celebrations when five suspected Islamists armed with crude bombs and machetes attacked a security post near a mosque that hosts the largest congregation in the country.
WATCH: Video footage from the scene
Two police officers and a woman were killed and at least nine others were injured in the attack in Kishoregunj district, about 140 kilometers from the capital Dhaka. One militant was killed and three were arrested.
The strike came just days after the country’s worst-ever terror attack in which gunmen killed 20 people they took hostage in a bakery in Dhaka.
That assault had targeted mainly foreigners, but Thursday’s attack was unusual in targeting a Muslim gathering on one of Islam’s holiest days.
Bangladeshi policemen arrive near the scene of a blast in Kishoreganj, about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital of Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 7, 2016.
Bangladesh Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu told VOA that it was too early to say who was responsible for the latest attack.
"As far as our information goes, as far as our interrogation with arrested terrorists there is no such organizational evidence of Bangladeshi terrorists and the IS, that is our position. But we are looking into the option of a link between IS, Pakistan, Jamaat-e-Islaami of Bangladesh," Inu said.
The minister's disclosure that the government is not ruling out links to transnational terror groups is "quite surprising," said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Wilson Center for Scholars.
"Up to this point the Bangladesh government has stridently denied any possibility that Islamic State or al-Qaida for that matter could have links to local terror groups in Bangladesh or that transnational terror groups could be responsible for staging any of these recent attacks including the one in Dhaka on Friday. So the fact that a top government official in Bangladesh is saying we cannot rule out that possibility is certainly a step in the right direction."
The government has arrested thousands of people in recent weeks, even while denying that international terror groups are involved. IS has claimed its fighters carried out the assault on the bakery and threatened more strikes in a video on Tuesday.
The growing violence in the country has raised fears of rising radicalism in a traditionally moderate Muslim country of 160 million people, however top officials continue to deny that such a threat exists.
The information minister insists the attackers are targeting the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and do not have an Islamist agenda.
“It is a political action. It is no relation with religion, they are actually politically motivated to create a situation in Bangladesh so that the government becomes, feels disturbed,” he told VOA.
Possible global terror link
Analysts say Thursday’s attack did bear the hallmark of local militant outfits, but point out that the recent strikes demonstrate that these groups have established links with global terror groups.
The head of Dhaka’s Institute of Conflict, Law and Development, Abdur Rashid, says there are fears of growing involvement of IS elements in Bangladesh as they get squeezed in the Middle East. “The Bangladeshi radicalized elements were trying to communicate with IS elements for the last six months. They have somewhat succeeded. Now it is very difficult to differentiate who is IS and who is not IS because it is a syndicated effort,” says Rashid.
Information Minister Inu said his government is increasing counter terrorism cooperation with countries like India, Europe and the United States to tackle the terror threat.
Ira Mellman contributed to this report.