The terror attack at an upscale Dhaka restaurant that left more than 20 people dead was condemned Saturday by some Islamic scholars in Bangladesh, who said the targeting of non-Muslims is contrary to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.
In her speech to the nation Saturday evening, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also called the attackers "un-Islamic."
Militants burst into the restaurant Friday evening yelling "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") and firing rifles as they took the people inside hostage. Bangladeshi troops stormed the restaurant about 12 hours after the attack began, rescuing more than a dozen people.
When the standoff was over, authorities found 20 people, mostly foreigners, hacked to death by the attackers. At least two police officers were also killed. Among those killed were nine Italians, seven Japanese and one American.
Six of the attackers were killed and one was captured.
It is believed many of those killed by the militants were slain a few hours after the siege began. Some of those who were rescued reported that the militants spared those who could recite a verse from the Quran.
No 'scent of heaven'
Leading cleric Maulana Fariduddin Masoud, chairman of Bangladesh Jamiatul Ulama (BJU), a national body of Islamic scholars, said the killing of the innocent people by the suspected Islamists was a barbaric act and the targeting of non-Muslims was antithetical to the teachings of Islam.
"Someone who kills the non-Muslims who are living in Muslim-majority society will not even get the scent of heaven, let alone getting an entry to the heaven. Attacking non-Muslims is haram [forbidden] and impermissible in the eye of Islam," Masoud said.
"Their blood, honor and wealth are as sacred as those of Muslims," the cleric told VOA on Saturday.
Last month, Masoud issued a fatwa, signed by more than 100,000 Islamic scholars, legal experts and clerics, condemning terrorism and militancy, including violent attacks on non-Muslims.
"According to Prophet Muhammad, such offense deserves harsh punishment," Masoud told VOA.
The carnage at the restaurant took place during the Muslim holy night of Laylatul Qadr, or Night of Power, when Muslims are supposed to spend the whole night in worship of God, the Islamic scholar noted.
"During this holy night, leaving out compulsory prayer, the barbarian gang went down to slaughter innocent people. By indulging in such ghastly crime, they have proved that they are not fighting for Islam, but they are enemies of Islam," Masoud said.
The militants killed nine women and one child during the Dhaka attack. BJU’s legal adviser, Mufti Junud Uddin Maktum, said that even during war, killing of those who are not involved in the war, including women, children and elderly people, is sternly prohibited in Islam.
"As they launch such attacks targeting innocent people, they believe that they are on holy jihad. It’s completely wrong. Jihad, which is one of the main orders of Islam, is striving for self-improvement and to establish peace, security and eternal welfare," Maktum told VOA.
"What they are indulging in is nothing but terrorism, which is haram and illegal in Islam," he said.
IS claims responsibility
Five hours after the militants laid siege to the resturant, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack. Early Saturday, the group posted photographs it claimed showed the bodies of foreigners killed by its operatives.
Rita Katz, executive direcor of the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, said in a tweet Saturday that IS also published photos of five jihadists who took part in the assault.
The Bangladesh government has not issued any statement on the IS claim of responsibility. The government has long said that no foreign terror group has any foothold in Bangladesh.
Just two weeks ago, the national police chief said that the local hard-line Islamist groups Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were behind all targeted killings in the country.
ABT pledges allegiance to al-Qaida, and JMB claims to be working for IS in Bangladesh.
Hasina, in her nationally televised speech Saturday, said those who have gone astray are indulging in heinous terrorist activities should return to the right path.
"Islam is a religion of peace. You should stop killing people in the name of Islam," the prime minister said.
She also said she doubted the killers in the restaurant were Muslim.
"In the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims offer prayer and remain in good thoughts and deeds. At such a time, they launched this ghastly attack and killed the people," she said. "I doubt if these people really followed Islam."