Jul 5, 2016 2:40 PM

Japanese, Italian bodies flown home as Bangladesh eyes clues

The Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) — The bodies of nine Italians and seven Japanese killed in a militant attack in Bangladesh were returned home Tuesday as investigators in Dhaka searched for clues about the masterminds of the gruesome attack that left 28 dead.

A Japanese government plane took the bodies of its citizens back to Tokyo's Haneda Airport, where the boxes covered with white cloth were lowered slowly in pairs from the cargo bay of the Boeing 747 and lined up on the tarmac. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Bangladesh Ambassador Rabab Fatima and other officials laid bouquets between the boxes.

Hours later, a similar somber ceremony played out in Rome, as the flag-draped coffins of the nine Italians arrived at Ciampino airport and a priest blessed them. Relatives of the dead, many weeping or clutching loved ones, approached the coffins to bid farewell as President Sergio Mattarella and Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni stood by.

In Dhaka, authorities were still holding five of the 13 hostages rescued when commandos stormed the restaurant in Dhaka's diplomatic zone Saturday morning, killing six of the attackers and capturing one. All five are Bangladesh citizens.

Dhaka Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said Tuesday that authorities are still questioning some of the former hostages, including a former teacher at a private Dhaka university and the son of an industrialist. He declined to provide more details about the investigation.

A second official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the ongoing investigation said authorities are looking into the backgrounds of the five people and questioning their families and friends.

It was not clear if the five are considered possible suspects, or if they are being held and questioned simply because authorities believe they might offer information about the origins of the attack.

The official confirmed investigators were speaking with a man described by local media as a Bangladeshi who was trapped inside the restaurant along with his wife and two children. The man, a former teacher at a private university in Dhaka, had returned to Bangladesh after living nearly 20 years in Britain.

Some photographs and several crude videos taken from an apartment near the Holey Artisan Bakery show the man talking to someone while attackers allowed him to leave before paramilitary forces launched the rescue operation on Saturday. The man's friends and police said one of the attackers was a student in the same department at the university where the man taught.

The attack — the worst violence in a recent series of deadly attacks to hit Bangladesh — has stunned the traditionally moderate Muslim nation and raised global concerns about whether it can cope with increasingly strident Islamist militants.

That the attackers targeted a popular restaurant in the heart of the diplomatic quarter of Bangladesh's capital signaled a shift in militant tactics. Previous attacks were carried out by gangs of young men wielding cleavers and machetes and hacking individual victims before fleeing.

Bangladesh police have said they are investigating whether the attackers had links to the Islamic State group, though the home minister insisted IS has no presence in Bangladesh and could not have guided the attack. The government has blamed the attack and other recent killings on domestic militants bent on imposing Islamic rule. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Two police officers and 20 hostages — nine Italians, seven Japanese, an Indian and three students at American universities — were killed.

The Italian Foreign Ministry has issued a travel advisory saying it cannot exclude the possibility of further attacks in Bangladesh. It urged people to exercise the "utmost prudence," particularly in places frequented by foreigners, and to limit their activities to only what was necessary.


Associated Press writers Katy Daigle, Nirmala George and Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.


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