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Evidence to show link between Bangla attacks and ISIS: Kerry

John Kerry

Dhaka : There is “evidence” to show that the ISIS is in contact with militants in Bangladesh, US Secretary of State John Kerry today said on his first visit to the Muslim-majority country witnessing a wave of brutal attacks on minorities and secular activists, in a major blow to the government’s stance.

“…there is evidence that ISIL in Iraq and Syria has contacts with about eight different entities around the world and one of them is in South Asia,” Kerry said.

“They are connected to some degree with some of the operatives here and we made that very clear in our conversation. There was no argument about it,” he said after talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and his Bangladeshi counterpart A H Mahmood Ali.

Hasina’s administration has consistently denied that ISIS has gained a foothold in the country and Kerry’s remarks are a major blow to that stance.

Kerry conveyed the US’ interest to work closely with intelligence agencies of Bangladesh to fight terrorism and said that “we need to exchange information to combat terrorism”, Hasina’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim told a media briefing.

Kerry said he has had “important discussions on security issues” in Dhaka during his maiden day-long tour.

“Important discussions today in Bangladesh including on security issues & our strong support in fighting against violent extremism,” he tweeted after his meeting with Hasina and Ali.

Kerry, who later in the day heads to New Delhi, described the visit as “significantly important”.

Ali said discussions with Kerry were “open” and “fruitful”, encompassing issues of bilateral ties and cooperation in areas including militancy and trade.

“We had a very open discussion on issues of Bangladesh-US relations… it was a fruitful discussion,” he said during the briefing along with the Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam after holding talks with Kerry.

Issues of cooperation in combating terrorism and militancy largely dominated the talks, Ali said but declined to elaborate immediately.

“These are issues to be disclosed gradually,” he said. According to Karim, Kerry said the US would work together with Bangladesh to fight terrorism and reiterated its offer to provide experts to this end.

“We would fight with Bangladesh to combat terrorism… we have enough experts in this regard and we could help Bangladesh by giving these experts,” he quoted Kerry as telling the Bangladeshi premier at her office.

Karim said the one-hour meeting was held in a very cordial and warm atmosphere where the entire gamut of bilateral relations was reviewed.

The high-profile visit comes as Bangladesh reels from a wave of murders of secular, liberal activists and religious minorities. Victims of the attacks by suspected Islamists have included secular bloggers, gay rights activists and followers of minority religions including Hindus, Christians and Muslim Sufis and Shiites.

Last month, a Bangladeshi cafe located in the diplomatic area was stormed by terrorists, who killed 22 people including an Indian girl. The gruesome attack has prompted foreigners, including potential investors, to leave Bangladesh – sparking worries for its garment industry, the world’s second largest after China.

According to analysts, Kerry’s visit takes place amid the perception that the US is not happy with the incumbent government following the last parliamentary elections that Washington did not find “credible” as BNP-led opposition boycotted the vote.

While talking about the ongoing anti-ISIS drive in the Middle East, he said the outfit has been cornered in the region due to the operation and many terrorists are now returning home in the face of the attack.

Earlier after arrival, Kerry paid his rich tributes to the memory of Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman visiting Bangabandhu Museum as his first engagement in Dhaka.

“What a tragedy to have such brilliant and courageous leadership taken away from the people of Bangladesh in such a moment of violence and cowardice.

“But today, Bangladesh is growing in the vision of Bangabandhu – and under the strong leadership of his daughter (Sheikh Hasina),” Kerry wrote in the visitors’ book after he toured different parts of the Bangabandhu’s residence, now turned into a museum.

When the premier recalled the assassination of ‘Bangabandhu’ and most of his family members in 1975 and requested the US to extradite his killers living in the US, Kerry said he understands the concern of Hasina.

“The issue (of extradition) is under review by the US government,” he said.

Ali said Kerry was very appreciative of Bangladesh’s ongoing fight against militancy and terrorism with particular mention of Prime Minister Hasina’s “zero tolerance policy” in this regard.

He added: “The United States is proud to be friend (of Bangladesh) and strong supporter of the fulfilment of his (Bangabandhu’s) vision. We look forward for growing and working together for peace and prosperity.”

Highly praising Bangladesh’s tremendous development in socio-economic progress, Kerry said Bangladesh has been doing “brilliantly” in the sector.

“We have partnered with Bangladesh in its economic progress and other issues,” he said.

The US secretary of State also showed his country’s eagerness to work closely with Bangladesh in other sectors like climate, health and energy.

A special US aircraft carrying Kerry along with members of his entourage arrived here from Geneva while his counterpart received him at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport’s VVIP terminal meant for heads of governments and states.

A US state department statement had earlier said Kerry will also “focus on strengthening our longstanding bilateral partnership on democracy, development, security and human rights”.

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