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Security personnel bring Shaikh Mohammad Abul Kashem, a spiritual leader of “Neo JMB”, in front of media after his March 2 arrest by Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police in Dhaka, Bangladesh, March 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladeshi police have arrested the head of an Islamist militant group accused of inspiring followers to kill foreigners, the chief of the counter-terrorism unit said on Friday.

Shaikh Mohammad Abul Kashem, who founded an offshoot of the larger Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) group, was picked up on Thursday night in the Senpara Parbata area of the capital, Dhaka.

Kashem worked alongside Canadian citizen Tamim Chowdhury and Nurul Islam Marjan, two men police accused of masterminding an attack on an upscale Dhaka cafe in July in which 22 people were killed, most of them foreigners, Monirul Islam, the counter- terrorism chief, said.

"On the basis of a tip-off from a secret source, our force arrested him from the area when he was going to receive money that came through a mobile banking system," Islam said.

According to police, Kashem, who wrote several jihadi books and headed a religious school in northern Bangladesh, taught followers of his group, called Neo JMB, that killing foreigners would ease their path to heaven.

"His followers preferred to kill foreigners," Islam said.

"We have been trying to catch him on the basis of previously arrested militants, but every time he could escape."

Bangladesh has been battling a rise in Islamist-linked violence in the past four years, and since July has arrested or killed several men accused of involvement in the cafe siege.

Since 2013, 48 people have been killed or seriously wounded by Islamist militants in Bangladesh, including at least six online critics of religious militancy who were hacked to death, among them a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Tommy Wilkes, Robert Birsel)

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