Bangladeshi militants were behind the hostage crisis in Dhaka that left 20 civilians dead, a top police official said Sunday, denying any link with the Islamic State extremist group.
The civilians, most of them foreigners, were killed by Islamist militants who took them hostage during an hours-long siege that started Friday at a restaurant in the Bangladeshi capital.
Troops stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant in Dhaka's diplomatic zone early Saturday to end the siege, and killed six terrorists. Two police officers were also killed.
Inspector General of Police Shahidul Hoque told reporters that the attackers had no link with Islamic State and that five of the six dead militants had been on the watch list of law enforcement agencies.
"[T]here were drives to nab them several times. They are all Bangladeshi militants," Hoque was quoted as saying by the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency.
Police released photographs of the bodies of the attackers hours after the rescue operation.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan confirmed to reporters Sunday evening that the attackers were Bangladeshi nationals.
"They have no connection with the external forces. They might have carried out the attack as per the plan by someone in Bangladesh," he said.
A document posted online, whose authenticity dpa could not verify, showed separate pictures of five men carrying kalashikovs and standing in front of an Islamic State flag.
Captions described each of the five, whose names suggested that they were all Bangladeshis, as a "commando who infiltrated the gathering of subjects of crusader states in Bangladesh.
Local media reported that based on these and social media photos, friends and family of the attackers had begun identifying the inviduals. Police had not confirmed any identities of the attackers.
Inspector General of Police Shahidul Hoque said Bangladesh's counter-intelligence unit of the police would be given the responsibility of investigation launched Sunday.
He said the investigators would look into whether the attackers have any international links.
Forensic experts from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and National Security Agency were at the restaurant to search for clues.
Troops managed to recover the bodies of the 20 civilians, who included Italians, Japanese, Bangladeshi, US and Indian citizens.
Thirteen civilians were rescued during the operation.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who announced two days of mourning starting Sunday, vowed that her government will track down the terrorists and their patrons.
"We must find out the roots of the culprits who gave arms and explosives to the terrorists for committing the barbaric attack on the restaurant," she said when Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Kihara called on her Sunday.
The national flag was flown at half mast atop all public buildings and black flags were hoisted as the country mourned the victims of the deadliest terrorist attack on Bangladeshi soil.
A statement circulated online Saturday by apparent supporters of Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
The statement, whose authenticity dpa could not verify, said that five Islamic State fighters had attacked "a gathering of subjects of the crusader states in the city of Dakka in Bangladesh."
It claimed that they had killed 22 "crusaders" including seven Italians and threatened that "subjects of the crusader states" would not be safe anywhere "as long as their aircraft are killing Muslims."
Prime Minister Hasina is scheduled to pay homage to the victims at Dhaka's Army Stadium Monday.
The bodies of the victims are also to be taken to the ground to allow people from different walks of life to pay respect to them, the prime minister's press officer Ihsanul Karim said.
Former prime minister Khaleda Zia urged her political rival Hasina to foster unity against terrorism in the wake of the attacks.
"None of the achievements will last if we fail to curb militancy. Let's forget all the divisions and forge anti-terrorism unity soon to build up a peaceful, secured democratic Bangladesh," Khaleda said outside parliament.