Islamic State says it singled out non-Muslims for death in Dhaka attack

The Islamic State says it separated non-Muslims from Muslims and killed the former in yesterday’s assault on a bakery in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka. This tactic, which was first used by al Qaeda, had not been used by the Islamic State in the past. At least 22 people, including nine Italians, seven Japanese, and two police officers were killed in the attack and the ensuing raid to end the siege.

The Islamic State initially claimed credit for yesterday’s attack as it was underway, noting that its “commandos” attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, killed 20 people, and was holding hostages.

In a follow-up statement today that was released on Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency, the group said the assault team separated Muslims from non-Muslims during the attack .

“The Islamic State fighters detained patrons of the restaurant to verify their identities and released the Muslims, and killed 22 foreigners in addition to two officers from the Bangladeshi police, who fell during the clashes, and also, nearly 50 people were wounded,” Amaq stated, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. Additionally, Amaq noted that the cafe “is popular with foreign visitors.”

Amaq also said that its fighters “carried out the attack using knives, cleavers, assault rifles, and hand grenades,” and released gory photographs purporting to show the bodies of some of their victims laying in pools of blood, according to SITE. The images could not be verified.

These details were confirmed in press reports on the Dhaka attack. The Islamic State fighters reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greatest,” during the initial assault, divided Muslim customers from non-Muslims, and then brutally executed the non-Muslims, some with knives and machetes. Also, the Islamic State fighters repelled the initial police assault to free the hostages with a barrage of assault rifle fire and hand grenades, killing two policemen and wounding several more, according to Reuters.

The tactic of dividing Muslims from non-Muslims and then executing the latter was pioneered by al Qaeda in order to deflect criticism that the group wantonly kills Muslims. Shabaab, al Qaeda’s branch in East Africa, divided Muslims from non-Muslims during the siege of the upscale Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya in September 2013, that killed 67 people, including 19 foreigners.

Shabaab mirrored this tactic in several other attacks, including the assault on Garissa University College in Kenya in April 2015. “We sorted people out and released the Muslims,” Shabaab spokesman Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab told Reuters after the attack.

If it is confirmed that the Islamic State’s loyalists repeated this practice in Dhaka, then they likely borrowed this tactic from al Qaeda.

Officials in Bangladesh have often sought to downplay the growth of jihadism in their country, but both the Islamic State and al Qaeda have established a foothold. A wing of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has targeted accused “blasphemers” and others repeatedly in individual attacks. Ayman al Zawahiri announced the creation of AQIS in September 2014, saying that it was the result of two years of recruiting and negotiating with existing jihadi groups. It is possible that the Islamic State has grown inside Bangladesh by poaching from this extremist base. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s campaign has also grown worldwide by wooing local jihadist organizations into its camp.

Correction: The word “latter” was changed to “former” in the first sentence.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal. Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Grammar says:

    So the executed the former, not the latter.

  • Grammar says:

    Sorry, the “y” sticks on my keyboard.

  • Don McArthur says:

    Your first paragraph is logically flawed – you mean the non-Muslims were killed, but you wrote that the Muslims were killed. Feel free to delete this comment when you edit your copy.

  • ulises says:


  • Russell Thomas says:

    What a shame that such ungodly acts are committed in the name of religion. Religious leaders, politicians, civil society and the media now need to mount up a serious effort at inter-religious dialogue to arrest this ignorance and seeming unstoppable madness.

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    The terrorist attack took place in an area where security is supposed to be tight. I suspect they bribed a police officer who was dealing with security or security was lax on that day. How did the terrorists get to the place? Did they take a vehicle or did they walk to their destination ?

  • Arjuna says:

    Creeps. Makes one want to ban a certain religion so it can’t be used for propaganda.
    RAB thinks it could be the “al-Qaeda linked JMB” you wrote about in ’06.
    Says for sure the Bangladeshi “middle class” terrorists were locals answering to JMB.
    Felt more like AQ Pakistani-style training. IS hitters are even faster and harder.
    IS sure can spin up ops and convince cadre to change sides quickly.
    Whoever they worked for, Bangladesh is on a new, shakier footing.

  • Arjuna says:

    Here’s your JMB > ISIS connection:
    “The two local groups, Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Ansarullah Bangla Team have pledged allegiance to ISIS and Al Qaeda respectively.”

  • Arjuna says:

    Freudian slip?

  • maurice says:

    Bad news – Tight security in asia is an oxymoron. The good news – action will now be taken the hard way

  • maurice says:

    We shall refer to them from here on end as “the hunted”. I can almost hear the rumble of intercept capabilities shift over to Bengali. Hope the hunted have thrown away their phones, but they’re likely still feeling invincible. Too bad. By now, the remittance system from expat bangladeshis is going to get the same scrutiny as charitable donations by saudis, and I’m sure the worldwide airline travels of every Bangladeshi is getting the attention it so sorely lacked until now.

  • Charu says:

    The tactic of dividing Muslims from non-Muslims and then executing the latter was pioneered by LeT (and its Pakistani military handlers) during the 2008 Mumbai attack. Hostages at the Taj hotel were separated into Muslims and non-Muslims, and the latter were targeted for slaughter. Shabaab copied much of its Kenya operation from the Mumbai attack, as did ISIS in its attack on Paris. And it isn’t just a coincidence!


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