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Bangladeshi-born Canadian ‘Mastermind’ of Dhaka Café Terror attack Tamim Chowdhury Dies in Shootout at Naryanganj, Bangladesh

Tamim Chowdhury, 30, and two unidentified suspects were shot dead while resisting arrest during a mid-morning raid by police and security forces on a house in Naryanganj, Bangladesh

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Map of Bangladesh where the terror attack took place. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Naryanganj, Bangladesh, August 28, 2016: In a shootout with police near the capital on Saturday, the Bangladeshi-born Canadian leader of a militant faction who was the “main mastermind” of July’s deadly siege at a Dhaka café was killed with two other suspects in a shootout with police near the capital on Saturday, officials said.

Tamim Chowdhury, 30, and two unidentified suspects were shot dead while resisting arrest during a mid-morning raid by police and security forces on a house in Naryanganj, a district on the outskirts of Dhaka, according to authorities.

“This is a matter of shame for us that a notorious terrorist like Tamim Chowdhury resided near us,” Azizur Rahman, a resident of Paikpara, a section of Narayanganj where the gunfight took place, told a BenarNews correspondent at the scene.

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Chowdhury’s name figured prominently among at least 10 people identified by police as alleged “masterminds” of the July 1 terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant. Twenty hostages – mostly foreigners – were reportedly killed with machetes during the overnight siege in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter. The five alleged attackers were all killed when security forces stormed the restaurant and broke the siege on the morning of July 2.

The so-called extremist group Islamic State claimed that its fighters carried out the attack, but the government has since denied that a link exists between the siege and any transnational terror group. A recent edition of Dabiq, IS’s propaganda magazine, claimed that Tamim Chowdhury headed the group’s network in Bangladesh. After Saturday’s shootout, Bangladesh’s home minister and national police chief repeated earlier official denials about IS having any presence in the country.

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“Tamim Chowdhury is among the three militants killed today. We have yet to identify the two others, but we think [they were] his close aides,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters while visiting the scene.

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Chowdhury headed a faction of the home-grown militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), known as Neo-JMB, police counter-terror chief Monirul Islam told BenarNews. Authorities had put a bounty of 2 million taka (U.S. $25,565) on Chowdhury’s head.

Apart from identifying him by name, police named one “Marjan” as among the other masterminds behind the plot, but they declined to disclose the names of the others.

The investigation into the café attack so far has yielded two suspects in custody. A British citizen and a Canadian resident, both of Bangladeshi origin and who were inside the café as the attack unfolded, are being held over allegations that they behaved suspiciously and may have abetted the hostage-takers – a charge that their families and lawyers have denied.

‘Free of another curse’: PM

Bangladeshi officials have said that JMB-linked militants were behind the attack at the café, an attack on the country’s largest annual Eid prayer gathering on July 6, as well as killings of religious minorities and other violent extremist acts.

Later Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina praised the police and intelligence services for the operation that took out Chowdhury.

“The main mastermind of the Holey Artisan [attack] has been eliminated,” Hasina told reporters at her office, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The nation has become free of another curse,” she said, adding that the “elimination of the extremists” would bolster “people’s confidence.”

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The shootout came ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s scheduled arrival in Dhaka on Monday, where he is to hold talks with Bangladeshi officials about cooperation on security matters and other bilateral concerns, the State Department announced last week.

A dual U.S.-Bangladeshi citizen was among at least 17 foreigners killed in the café attack, and another national of both countries was among nine suspected militants killed in a police raid on a JMB hideout in Dhaka on July 26, Bangladeshi authorities said. Citing privacy laws, the U.S. embassy in Dhaka declined to confirm whether the slain suspect, Shehzad Rouf Arka, was an American citizen.

‘They refused’

Acting on a tip, the police and members of the Rapid Action Battalion on Saturday morning encircled a three-story house in Paikpara, where the suspects were believed to be hiding in a second-floor apartment, officials said.

“They were asked to surrender, but they refused. Finally, the police carried out the operation and they died in the gunfight,” Inspector-General of Police A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told reporters at the scene.

In rebuffing the call to surrender, the suspects opened fire and threw hand grenades at security personnel, said Sanowar Hossain, an additional deputy commissioner of the national police’s counter-terrorist branch.

Authorities said they recovered an AK-22 rifle and two live grenades from the second-floor apartment.

An area resident and construction worker, Ruhul Amin, said the suspects lived in an apartment next-door to his.

He had left his apartment early in the morning for prayers at the local mosque, and was returning home when relatives telephoned him to alert him to stay away from the building, where the standoff with police was unfolding.

He said he rarely saw his neighbors next-door.

“I saw two of them once on a Friday as they were taking in some goods, such as a gas stove. Today, we came to know that they are militants,” said Amin. (BenarNews)

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Myanmar Must Take Back Displaced Rohingya Refugees : India

Sushma Swaraj did not use the word Rohingya to refer to the thousands who have taken shelter in Bangladesh and instead referred to them as displaced persons from Rakhine state

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A group of Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy road after traveling over the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. VOA

Dhaka, October 22, 2017 : India on Sunday said Rohingya refugees who have poured into Bangladesh must be taken back by Myanmar from where they have been displaced.

“Normalcy will only be restored with the return of the displaced persons to Rakhine state,” Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a media meet also attended by her Bangladeshi counterpart Abula Hassan Mahmood Ali.

This followed the fourth India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Committee meeting.

ALSO READ US will Provide $32 Million to Rohingyas As Humanitarian Aid Package

Sushma Swaraj did not use the word Rohingya to refer to the thousands who have taken shelter in Bangladesh and instead referred to them as displaced persons from Rakhine state, bdnews24.com reported.

She said India was “deeply concerned at the spate of violence in Rakhine state of Myanmar”.

According to latest figures from the UN office in Bangladesh, over 600,000 refugees have entered the country since August 25 after the Myanmar Army cracked down on the Rohingyas after a series of attacks on security personnel in Rakhine.

Bangladesh Minister Ali said India was urged to contribute towards exerting sustained pressure on Myanmar to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, including return of Rohingyas to their homeland. (IANS)

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Syrian Militia: End Is Near for Islamic State in Raqqa

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Smoke rises near the stadium where the Islamic State militants are holed up after an airstrike by coalition forces at the frontline, in Raqqa, Syria. voa

Islamic State is on the verge of defeat in Syria’s Raqqa and the city may finally be cleared of the jihadists Saturday or Sunday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia told Reuters Saturday.

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State said around 100 of the jihadist group’s fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and had been “removed from the city,” but it still expected difficult fighting “in the days ahead.”

It did not say how the fighters had been removed or where the fighters had been taken.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said remaining Islamic State fighters were being transported out of Raqqa by bus under a deal between Islamic State, the U.S.-led coalition and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the YPG. There was no immediate comment on that report from the coalition or the SDF.

Fighting since June

Civilians who escaped from Islamic State
Civilians who escaped from Islamic State militants rest at a mosque in Raqqa, Syria. voa

The SDF, backed by coalition airstrikes and special forces, has been battling since June to oust Islamic State from Raqqa city, formerly its de facto capital in Syria and a base of operations where it planned attacks against the West.

The final defeat of Islamic State at Raqqa will be a major milestone in efforts to roll back the group’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, where earlier this year the group was driven from the city of Mosul.

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (Islamic State) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters by telephone.

In emailed comments to Reuters, coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon said about 100 Islamic State fighters had surrendered in Raqqa in the last 24 hours and were “removed from the city,” without giving further details.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think (Islamic State) will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said, adding that around 85 percent of Raqqa had been liberated as of Oct. 13.

Some civilians escape

Around 1,500 civilians had been able to safely make it to SDF lines within the last week, he added.

Omar Alloush, a member of a civilian council set up to run Raqqa, told Reuters late Friday that efforts were under way to secure the release of civilians and “a possible way to expel terrorist elements from Raqqa province,” without giving further details.

An activist group that reports on Raqqa, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said on its Facebook page Saturday that dozens of buses had entered Raqqa city overnight, having traveled from the northern Raqqa countryside.

The Observatory said Syrian Islamic State fighters and their families had left the city, and buses had arrived to evacuate remaining foreign fighters and their families. It did not say where they would be taken.

During the more than six-year Syrian war, the arrival of buses in a conflict zone has often signaled an evacuation of combatants and civilians.

The campaign against Islamic State in Syria is now focused on its last major foothold in the country, the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, which neighbors Iraq.
Islamic State is facing separate offensives in Deir el-Zour by the SDF on one hand, and Syrian government forces supported by Iranian-backed militia and Russian airstrikes on the other. (VOA)

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Will the Latest Message From Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Provoke New Attacks in the West?

IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses in United States and Europe

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This image taken from a militant website July 5, 2014, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (VOA)

Washington, September 30, 2017 : U.S. intelligence officials examining the latest audio statement claiming to be from Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi say, so far, they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

However, there are questions as to whether the message from the leader of the collapsing, self-declared caliphate will cause IS operatives to spring into action. Some analysts see Baghdadi’s continued call to arms as almost a shot in the dark, aimed at rekindling interest despite the terror group’s fading fortunes in Syria and Iraq.

The still-early U.S. intelligence assessment comes just a day after the Islamic State’s al-Furqan media wing issued the 46-minute audio recording featuring Baghdadi, in which he calls on followers to “fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner.”

“Continue your jihad and your blessed operations and do not let the crusaders rest in their homes and enjoy life and stability while your brethren are being shelled and killed,” he says.

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A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter takes cover behind a wall on a street where they fight against Islamic State militants, on the front line on the western side of Raqqa, Syria (VOA)

Despite such threats, U.S. officials say the release of the latest audio message is not changing Washington’s approach.

“We are aware of the tape,” a National Security Council spokesman said Friday. “But whether it’s al-Baghdadi or any member of ISIS, the Trump administration’s policy is destroying ISIS in Iraq, Syria and around the globe.” ISIS is an acronym for Islamic State.

Still, intelligence and counterterror officials, both in the United States and in Europe, warn that IS remains a potent organization, despite its continued losses on the ground.

“We do not think battlefield losses alone will be sufficient to degrade its terrorism capabilities,” the head of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, Nick Rasmussen, warned in written testimony to U.S. lawmakers earlier this week, calling IS’s reach on social media “unprecedented.”

And while Western counterterror officials say the expected wave of returning IS foreign fighters has yet to materialize, the experience and skill sets of the operatives who have made it back home are ample reasons to worry.

But some caution the new Baghdadi audio message may have more to do with the terror group’s long-term strategy than its desire to carry out attacks in the near term.

“The broadcast boosts morale by contextualizing the hardships facing the group as their losses accumulate by reminding Islamic State militants and their supporters that day-to-day actions are part of a broader struggle, and metrics of progress shouldn’t be assessed in a vacuum,” according to Jade Parker, a senior research associate at the Terror Asymmetrics Project (TAPSTRI).

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Parker also believes that while it is “extremely unlikely” the latest Baghdadi audio will spark or accelerate any IS plots, it might prevent fraying within the organization’s ranks.

“Baghdadi’s silence during the final days of IS’s battle for Mosul was a sore point for many IS fighters and supporters who felt confused and abandoned by their leader,” she added. “This statement was likely released in part to avoid that sentiment with respect to the fight to retain ground in Raqqa.” (VOA)