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.