THE five men who carried out Friday’s terrorist attack in Dhaka shared a single Kalashnikov lookalike to pose for photographs that were circulated online by Islamic State, Bangladesh intelligence sources have confirmed to The Indian Express.
Sources also said that the weapon has been confirmed to be the same one that was carried into the Holey Artisan Bakery by the gunmen, with distinctive scratch-like markings visible above its trigger.
The fact that one lookalike Kalashnikov was used in Friday’s attack — along with four pistols and grenade-type improvised explosive devices — suggests that the attackers did not have access to sophisticated assault weapons. In most terrorist attacks around the world, the attackers have used assault weapons, such as the Kalashnikov AK47 and its variants, or the Armalite 15.
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Bangladesh’s government has talked down reports that the attack was carried out by Islamic State, insisting instead that the gunmen were linked to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a jihadist group that has been seeking to establish an Islamic emirate.
Known as a Kalashnikov 22, the lookalike was initially manufactured by Romania-based SC Uzinele Mecanice Cugir for training cadets and for sportspersons, and is now mass-produced at factories at China. It uses the low-cost .22LR cartridge seen in a wide range of rifles, pistols, revolvers and even smoothbore shotguns for recreational hunting. The weapon is “basically a kind of airgun version of the Kalashnikov, with the look of the original, but not the lethality”, said an Indian police expert.
Eyewitness accounts suggest that the gunmen killed the victims using machetes and knives, rather than by firing, possibly to conserve ammunition. “Had we been certain that the terrorists were so lightly armed, we would probably have ordered the assault far earlier, and perhaps lives could have been saved. However, that was not a call which we could take casually, with so many lives at stake,” a Dhaka-based police officer told The Indian Express.
Because of its superficial similarity to assault rifles, the AK22 is popular with criminals and insurgents in Bangladesh and India’s Northeast. It is often smuggled from China through India’s borders with Myanmar, said Indian intelligence officials.
From accounts provided by the police assault team in Dhaka, the terrorists did not demonstrate substantial tactical skills, such as the ability to hide themselves amongst hostages or lay traps. “It doesn’t seem like these were combat-hardened veterans, frankly. They may have been prepared to die, but their skills at killing were not of a high order,” said the senior police officer.
Though there has been speculation that the gunmen may have trained with the IS, evidence exists that training camps have been running in Bangladesh. In April, police in the country’s Bogra district recovered an AK22, identical to the one used in Friday’s attack, from a JMB member alleged to have been involved in an attack on a Shia mosque the previous November. In that attack, claimed by the IS, gunmen had opened fire on a mosque in Haripur village, killing three.
Police records show that large caches of the weapon were recovered in 2015, often from criminal gangs operating in Chittagong. Three such weapons were also found during a raid on a training camp in Banshkhali, a remote area. This April, five more AK22s were recovered from members of JMB-affiliated Shaheed Hamza Brigade during a raid in Chittagong.