Friday’s terror attack was the worst in Bangladesh’s history and the country is in grief. But the episode has raised critical questions on the country’s preparedness to fight terror, the changing face of terrorism and the concerns for India.

Security personnel apart, 20 persons — nine from Italy, seven from Japan, one Indian, one Bangladeshi-origin American and two Bangladeshis — were victims of the siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery, a cosy café in the upscale Gulshan area, home to diplomatic missions in Dhaka.

Many slain foreigners were linked to infrastructure and development projects initiated by the government.

The attack took place on the back of killings of nearly two dozen secular bloggers, two foreigners and Bangladeshis belonging to the minority Hindu and Buddhist communities. Even on Saturday, a Hindu priest was attacked in the Satkhira district bordering West Bengal.

Foreigners targeted

Friday night’s attack was targeted at non-Bangladeshis and non-Muslims. Most Bangladeshi staff of the café, and hostages, were freed. The slain Bangladeshis include the son of a top local industrialist who refused to leave his American and Indian friends behind, and a foreign-educated woman, for not wearing hijab.

Terror group Islamic State (IS) was quick to upload pictures of slaughtered men and women, claiming responsibility for the attack. But, security experts told BusinessLine that it might well be a decoy to shift focus.

The Bangladesh government confirmed that the terrorists were all Bangladeshis and belong to home-grown outfits such as the banned Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). “There is no ISIS or Al-Qaeda presence in Bangladesh,” the country’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told the media.

Lacks credibility

The stance is not new. The Sheikh Hasina government has denied that global networks were behind previous killings, too. Worse, it trivialises the issue by heaping blame on the Opposition BNP and its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami for creating unrest.

Police investigations haven’t achieved much headway. Radical outfits such as the home-grown Hefazat-e-Islam and the outlawed Hizb ut-Tahrir have faced little trouble at the hands of law enforcement agencies.

The government’s version on Friday night’s siege, therefore, lacks credibility.

Bangladesh’s terror links are not new. Radical forces established deep roots here during the army rule. The country has witnessed to sustained attacks on religious minorities and was a recruitment ground for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS in Syria.

However, the country was largely spared of Islamic terror. The flashpoint arose when many top Jamaat leaders faced trial and execution for crimes committed during the Liberation War of 1971.

Price of the shift

Moreover, Hasina’s attempts to change the country’s age-old anti-India political culture, to a paradigm of collaborative growth with its western neighbour, which is playing a key role in regional geo-political stability with the backing of the US, has led to desperation among radical outfits. The attack is clearly aimed at destabilising Bangladesh’s growth agenda and affecting India’s increasing influence in the region.

Concerns for India

The most interesting feature of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack is that the attackers hailed from affluent families. Barely 20-21, they studied in Dhaka’s top-ranking public schools and private universities.

Security experts say the style of operation was in sync with the recent spate of terror acts across the world, wherein persons from unsuspecting backgrounds caused heavy damage with minimum access to arms and ammunitions and training.

Such cells, they say, are active in India, especially in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Four border districts in Bengal are considered sensitive.