Militant outfit Neo-JMB may be shifting their attacks to less secure areas and softer targets in Bangladesh, which has alarmed police.
A bomb blast that jolted a ward Awami League office in Shiromoni, Khulna city on Monday, marked the first time the militants targeted the ruling party, instead of their usual foe – the police.
Earlier in March this year, a Bangla manifesto had been published in a Telegram channel used for secure communication between terrorists, which included plans of attacking ruling party politicians.
Police believe the attackers may have been acting as per this manifesto.
"We are investigating all aspects of the attack, including the targeting of ruling party politicians," said Khulna Metropolitan Police Commissioner Khandaker Lutful Kabir.
Although no one was injured in the blast, owing to a flaw in the design of the explosive device, police claimed that the bomb was powerful enough to kill people and cause massive destruction.
The bomb, found inside the ruling party office, bared resemblance to the explosive devices used in the attacks against police in Dhaka in the past five months.
An official from Dhaka Metropolitan Police's (DMP) Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTC) said that this might have been another attempt by Neo-JMB members in retaliation to the September 23 raid at a militant den in Fatullah, Narayanganj.
The explosives found in the Narayanganj militant den were similar to the ones used in the recent attacks on police, as well as the improvised explosive device (IED) used in the Khulna blast.
During the Narayanganj raid, police arrested militant Farid Uddin Rumi, along with another associate. All of them were active members of the Neo-JMB, claimed CTTC chief Monirul Islam.
An additional deputy commissioner of CTTC unit suspects the that the blast may have been in response to Rumi's arrest.
"Rumi's fugitive brother Jamal Uddin – also a Neo-JMB member – might be behind the blast in Khulna. We are looking for him now," he added.
"Due to tight security in the capital, they may be opting to attack less secured areas, which is why they may have chosen Khulna," another police official added, speculating that since Rumi had graduated from the Khulna University of Engineering and Technology, a cell may have chosen for Khulna for the attack.
During interrogation, Rumi had also revealed that they were currently attacking on a trial basis to measure the effectiveness of their explosives.
Police claim the group has been improving their bomb-making skills, and these "tests" maybe helping them become better at it.
Although police are unsure of the motive behind the attack, they are fairly certain that the international terrorist group Islamic State (IS) had nothing to do with it.
An assistant commissioner of CTTC unit said that in the five previous attacks, IS had claimed responsibility within three to four hours of the attacks.
"But in the Khulna incident, IS took at least eight hours to claim the responsibility," he added.
Khulna Metropolitan Police Commissioner Khandaker Lutful Kabir also brushed aside allegations of IS involvement in the attack.
Following the attack, the Anti-Terrorism Unit of Police, CTTC, and the Detective Branch of Khulna Metropolitan Police initiated a joint investigation on Tuesday.
However, police have not arrested anyone in connection with the blast yet.
Speaking to The Business Standard, a CTTC official said they have not been able to trace the ameer (leader) of the Neo-JMB cell they had dismantled in Narayanganj.
"We suspect there are at least two to three other cells under this ameer, one of which is responsible for the latest blast," said the official, adding the ameer goes by the name of Abu Mohammad.
While each cell has about four to five members, they do not maintain contact with each other. They act only on the instructions of the ameer. "Communications take place mostly through encrypted chatting software, such as Telegram or Signal," he added.
From the attack site in Khulna, investigators were able to recover an intact remote control circuit for the first time.
In the previous attacks, the remote control circuits attached to the IEDs had been completely damaged in the blasts.
Md Moniruzzaman, additional deputy inspector general of Anti-Terrorism Unit, said the IED had been made using a battery, a connector, a remote device, a portable gas cylinder and a tape – a Neo-JMB trademark.
Further tests conducted on the device will help us figure out the capabilities of these bombs and from what range they can be set off, CTTC officials explained.