Gulshan Café Attack: ‘Bomb supplier’ finally held

Sohel Mahfuz, known as an explosives expert and the bomb supplier for last year’s Gulshan café attack, was arrested along with three accomplices in the bordering Shibganj upazila of Chapainawabganj early yesterday.

“We arrested him at a mango orchard around 2:45am,” Chapainawabganj Superintendent of Police TM Mujahidul Islam told local reporters.

Sohel, a key accused in the café attack case, was on the police list for about 11 years but could not be arrested as he kept changing his names and stayed in various places of West Bengal for years, officials said.

They believe the arrest would help resolve many questions regarding the country’s deadliest terror incident that left 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan’s diplomatic zone on July 1 last year.

“You can say that we have moved one step forward in our investigation with his arrest,” said Monirul Islam, chief of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of the DMP, while briefing journalists in Dhaka.

Sohel, who played a key role in organising banned terror outfit JMB both in Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal, was a most wanted militant in both the countries.

Known as Nasrullah in Indian militant circle, he is said to be the ameer of West Bengal unit of JMB. One of the prime accused in the 2014 Burdwan blast case, he had Rs 10 lakh bounty on his head.

On October 2, 2014, two suspected Indian terrorists were killed and another was injured in an explosion at a house in Khagragarh locality of Burdwan district of West Bengal. Indian investigators suspect the JMB was linked to the incident.

Sohel joined “Neo JMB”, an offshoot of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), in January 2015. Later, he became a member of its Majlis-e-Shura because of his expertise in making explosives and organising militants, according to CTTC officials.

“Neo JMB” is mainly a group of home-grown radicals joined by operatives of the old JMB. It was behind the Holey Artisan siege, police say.

CTTC, a special unit tasked with investigating the case over the terror incident, failed to make a satisfactory headway even in a year. Officials earlier had said they were looking for three major suspects — Sohel, “Neo JMB” fund collector Basharuzzan Chocolate and organiser Rashed Alias Rash.

“We will be able to submit the charge sheet in the Gulshan café attack at the end of this year if we can arrest the other two suspects,” said Monir.

Indian police expressed eagerness to interrogate Sohel, he said.

Sohel was brought to Dhaka yesterday afternoon. Before he was taken inside the Detective Branch office, photographers took his photos but none was allowed to talk to him. He will be produced before the court today as police will seek a 10-day remand in the Gulshan attack case.

The three other arrestees are Jamal alias Mostofa, 34, son of Yeasin Ali of Chapainawabganj municipality area, Hafijur Rahman alias Hasan, 28, son of Afzal Hossain of Parbotipur village, and Jewel alias Ismail, 26, son of Eslam of Biswanathpur-Katiapra village, Chapainawabganj correspondent reported.

Jamal is one of the chief coordinators of “Neo JMB” in the district while Hafijur is an IT specialist. Jewel too is a trained militant, according to Chapainawabganj police.

Son of Rezaul Karim of Sadipur Kablipara, Sohel is also known as “Haatkata” Sohel as he lost his right hand in a bomb explosion in 2004 in Baghmara of Rajshahi during a vigilante operation.

He used different aliases like Abdus Sabur, Shahadat, Nasrullah and Ripon to dodge law enforcement agencies. According to his family, his real name is Hasan Sheikh.

Hailing from Kushtia’s Sadipur Kablipara village under Kumarkhali, he established militant networks both in Bangladesh and West Bengal in India.

He first married a girl in Chapainawabganj and then another in Dinajpur. He was staying in India with both of his wives, now absconding. Interestingly, both of his fathers-in-law were members of JMB.

This is the first time he has been arrested since joining militancy.

According to police, Sohel was drawn to militancy by one of his cousins in 2003. The following year, he joined the JMB and took part in Bangla Bhai-led vigilante operations against communist extremists in the country’s northwestern region.

Amid an anti-militancy drive and following arrests of top JMB leaders, he fled to India in 2006. “Later, they formed a West Bengal unit of JMB with some foreign leaders of the group and he was declared its ameer,” said CTTC boss Monir.

Sohel stayed in India till December 2014 and during his stay he spread militant activities. He came back to Bangladesh mainly at the request of “Neo JMB” leaders.

He is a distant relative of Nurul Islam Marzan, the suspected operational commander of the Gulshan café attack who was killed in a “shootout” in the capital’s Mohammadpur area on January 6.

Sohel was present in the Majlis-e-Shura meeting where the café attack plan was chalked out, claimed Monirul, adding that police would interrogate the three other arrestees to know whether they had any involvement in the Gulshan terror incident.

Police said Sohel got training in making bombs and IEDs from Zahidul Islam alias “Boma” Mizan. Investigators have also found his links to the hideouts busted in the capital’s Kalyanpur, Rajshahi and Chapainawabganj and recruitment of members and supply of explosives for those networks.

In another development, plainclothes policemen picked up Sohel’s younger brother Aslam Sheikh from his village early yesterday, our Kushtia correspondent reported quoting family members.

“Four persons identifying themselves as police detained him after Fazr prayers,” said one of Aslam’s family members, seeking anonymity.

Kushtia police denied arresting anyone named Aslam Sheikh.

Also yesterday, Deputy Inspector General of Police in Rajshahi claimed the militant networks of the region have been destroyed with the arrest of Sohel, our staff correspondent from Rajshahi reported.

“Police knew that Sohel visited India several times and managed to smuggle arms and explosives into Bangladesh,” he told journalists at his office.

He said militant dens busted in Rajshahi, Natore and Chapainawabganj in the last three months were set up by Sohel’s followers. “Sohel used to visit all those hideouts.”

Source: The Daily Star