South Asia

Terror Attack in Dhaka Forces the World to Sit Up and Take Notice

Analysts see new phase, tactics in terror campaign of the Islamic State

Army soldiers patrol near the Holey Artisan restaurant after gunmen attacked the upscale cafe, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 2, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Mohammd Ponir Hossain

Army soldiers patrol near the Holey Artisan restaurant after gunmen attacked the upscale cafe, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, July 2, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Mohammd Ponir Hossain

New Delhi: With foreign nationals  accounting for 18 of the 20 victims who fell to Islamic State terrorists in Dhaka on Friday night, the attack on the Holey Artisan restaurant was one of those rare non-western terror attacks to be covered widely by the world media. Major western news outlets such as The New York Times and CNN in the US and the BBC, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph in the UK gave it prominent, front page coverage.

The New York Times also published two analyses of the attack. One emphasised that this attack was an indicator of the Islamic State “scaling-up” and “internationalising” its operations, a nightmare for the US which is trying desperately to curb IS’s reach. The second, by Rukmini Callimachi, compared Islamic State strategies in Europe, Syria and Iraq – which seemed to be to “kill anyone and everyone” – to its game plan for other Muslim countries, which was a more controlled violence that targeted only religious minorities and foreigners and not Muslims in a bid to maintain support among followers and prospects. Callimachi suggests that the group is “tailoring its approach for different regions and for different target audiences”.

Callimachi also wrote in the first of a series of tweets, “1. The Bangladesh attack claimed by ISIS is proving to be more sophisticated in terms of pre-planning than we have seen in the past.” Her other tweets also highlighted this trend:

In its own analysis of the attack, The Guardian reiterated the long-held belief of western intelligence analysts that as the Islamic State begins to lose ground offensives, it will – as CIA Director John Brennan put it – “intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance”. After key stronghold Falluja fell to Iraqi troops last week, ISIS seems to (allegedly) have hit back with two large-scale terror attacks – Istanbul and now Dhaka – in quick succession. In the same piece, The Guardian also alleged that a “key driver of violence” was the bitter animosity between the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. An ISIS attack in Bangladesh, Al Qaeda’s region of strength, could have been a show of dominance and a demonstration of the reach on the part of the former.

 La Repubblica, one of Italy’s most popular daily newspapers, devoted much of the weekend’s reportage to the attack and described the incident as “a massacre of Italians”. It also published accounts by survivors of the attack, one of whom was an employee of the eatery, Jacopo Bioni, who told the newspaper that along with Argentine colleague Diego Rossini, he escaped by getting onto the roof of the restaurant and was chased by militants shooting machine guns and using hand-grenades until he jumped onto another property.

Allesandro Salusti, a commentator in the Italian newspaper Il Giornale minced no words in his headline‘Bestie Islamiche’ – or ‘Islamic Beasts’, adding, in his standfirst that the nine Italians in the restaurant were slaughtered “because they did not know the Quran.” He concluded his article with a call for Italy to commit “our superior civilisation” to the cause of avenging its dead compatriots.

Top Japanese newspapers Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, and The Mainichi all covered the attack, with the latter taking a look at Bangladesh’s mainstream political milieu and concluding, “There is a possibility that the rise of Islamic extremists reflects domestic political unrest.”

This conclusion was echoed by The Hindu in India, which stated, “Officials in Indian agencies believe the political developments in the neighbouring country since 2014 and the execution of war criminals were the key reasons for the violence.”

“Those who propagate terror find their task made easier if the government’s response creates an impression of reprisal born out of political animosity,” P. K. Hormis Tharakan, former RAW chief, told the daily.

Indian news coverage was perhaps the most extensive of all, due in large part to the proximity and the regional relevance of the attack. All major news outlets carried the story, including The Hindu, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, and the Indian Express. The Hindustan Times was one of the only outlets to report on the specifics of the counter-terrorism offensive, codenamed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’, detailing that over 1,000 rounds were fired and 1,000 explosions reported during the 30 minutes the raid lasted, and that one militant was captured alive.

For the most part, however, reportage focussed on the one Indian victim, 19-year-old student Tarushi Jain, describing her background and her family.

The Indian Express is the only Indian newspaper to rush a correspondent to Dhaka.