Bangladesh update

For those who put up with me as I tried to hack my way through a summary of yesterday’s events in Bangladesh while on about four hours of sleep, here are a few updates:

  • 20 hostages are confirmed killed along with six of the attackers–a seventh was arrested. Most of the victims were foreigners: nine Italians, seven Japanese, one American and one Indian. Two police officers were also killed.
  • All of the attackers were Bangladeshi, according to Bangladeshi police. This suggests a homegrown ISIS-affiliated cell carried out the attack rather than fighters sent directly from Raqqa, as seems to have been the case in Tuesday’s airport bombing in Istanbul. Of course, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that one or more of these attackers had returned home from fighting with ISIS in Syria-Iraq with orders to carry out an attack. But as far as I know right now nobody’s found any evidence of that.
  • After initially doubting ISIS’s claim of responsibility for some reason, the US government seems satisfied that this was an ISIS-affiliated attack and not something carried out by al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent. While AQIS still has the stronger presence in South Asia, they haven’t really penetrated Bangladesh any deeper than ISIS has, so there’s little reason to doubt ISIS’s claims.
  • ISIS’s shift from wanna-be state to (back to?) pure terrorist network continues apace. But Callimachi suggests that the group may now be trying to take a more targeted approach to attacks in Muslim-majority countries. The attackers were reportedly weeding out Bangladeshi Muslims and sparing their lives, which is something we’ve seen in some past terrorist attacks but not (as far as I know) something that ISIS has done before. Contrast that with Paris, where the killing was more indiscriminate. I’m not sure this holds up as a general theory–the Istanbul attackers don’t seem to have been looking to spare Muslims and we don’t exactly know who in the ISIS hierarchy planned this attack (if it was the work of a local cell then their rules of engagement might not reflect those of ISIS as a whole)–but it’s worth watching. Also, Bangladesh is an important market for ISIS, so they might want to be extra careful to avoid alienating the locals there in particular. Note too that this special dispensation only applies to Sunnis, as every ISIS car bombing in Baghdad shows.

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