Bangladesh says dead militant headed group behind cafe attack

DHAKA (Reuters) - A militant who died in a raid in Bangladesh this month was identified as the head of a militant group blamed for a deadly attack on a cafe that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners, security officials said on Friday.

Abdur Rahman leapt to his death from a five-story building as he tried to escape the raid on Oct. 8 on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, by the police-led Rapid Action Battalion, an elite force spearheading the counter-terrorism effort.

Battalion chief Benazir Ahmed said several documents, emails and letters retrieved during the raid confirmed Rahman was head of a new faction of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), known as New JMB, and went by the name Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif.

“Rahman’s real name was Sarwar Jahan,” Ahmed told a news conference. “He was arrested for taking part in an attack on police in 2003, and nine months later freed on bail, after which he disappeared.”In its April issue, Dabiq, a journal of militant group Islamic State, reported that Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif was the jihadists’ “emir” in Bangladesh.

The July 1 cafe attack in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter was claimed by the jihadist group and was one of the most brazen in Bangladesh, reeling from a spate of killings of liberals and members of religious minorities in the past year.

Al Qaeda and Islamic State have made competing claims over the attacks in the mostly Muslim country of 160 million people.

Police believe that New JMB, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, was involved in organizing the cafe attack.

While authorities blame the violence on domestic militants, security experts say the scale and sophistication of the cafe attack suggested links to a transnational network.

The United States believes elements of Islamic State are connected to operatives in Bangladesh, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during an August visit to Dhaka.

The targeting of foreigners could hurt foreign investment in the poor South Asian economy, whose $28 billion garments export industry is the world’s second-largest.

Police have killed more than 36 suspected militants in shootouts since the cafe attack, including its presumed mastermind, Bangladesh-born Canadian citizen Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury.

On Tuesday, police said they had identified three people as the main suppliers of funds for the attack.

One was a doctor who left Bangladesh with his family for Syria to join Islamic State. The other two, a retired army major who donated his savings and pension and a man who donated money from a Dhaka flat sale, died in shootouts with police.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez