Bangladesh police said on Friday they had arrested five members of a domestic Islamist militant group planning suicide attacks in the capital, Dhaka, as authorities hunted for the mastermind of a deadly assault last month.
Police swooped on the cell on Thursday on the outskirts of Dhaka and said the suspects, including four would-be bombers and a bomb-maker, were sent to the capital to bolster the attack capability of the group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
“All of them were from the northern part of the country and were sent to Dhaka,” said Monirul Islam, chief of the Dhaka police counter-terrorism unit.
He said the men were planning to launch attacks against high-profile targets in the city but he did not provide details.
Officers recovered jihadi material, 25 detonators and a huge amount of raw materials for explosives at the site in Kalyanpur, the same suburb where police killed nine suspected JMB members on July 26, Islam said.
Police have accused JMB, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, of a series of attacks over the past 18 months that has ratcheted up worries about the threat of militancy in the Muslim-majority South Asian country.
The attacks include the July 1 assault on an upmarket Dhaka cafe in which 22 people were killed, most of them foreigners.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the cafe attack and while the government has dismissed the claim, security experts say the scale and sophistication of the assault suggest links to trans-national networks.
Islam, the counter-terrorism chief, said police believed that Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen and prime suspect in the cafe attack, is in Dhaka.
Police are hunting for him, a sacked army major-turned militant, Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, and a third suspects known as just “Merjer” in connection with the cafe attack, he said.
Analysts say Chowdhury was the same person Islamic State identified in April as its commander in Bangladesh. But the government insists that Islamic State has no presence in the country.