We condemn the despicable terror attack in Dhaka that killed 20 customers at a restaurant in the Bangladesh capital, including seven Japanese, along with two local police officers last Friday. The killings come as yet another reminder of the vulnerability of so-called soft targets with relatively lax security, particularly as radical groups such as the Islamic State extremists, who claimed responsibility for the carnage, shift their tactics in the bid to spread terror across national borders. Though it is unlikely that the Japanese victims were specifically targeted in the attack, our nation’s citizens will likely not be spared because of their nationality either.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has quickly denounced the attack as “an unforgivable act of terrorism” and vowed that the government will do all it can to protect the safety of Japanese citizens both at home and overseas. That may be an increasingly tough challenge because — as the latest incident seems to indicate — acts of terror are being perpetrated by home-grown attackers who may or may not have been directly ordered to carry out their actions by larger terrorist networks. At minimum, Japan should increase its cooperation with other countries to enhance intelligence sharing and to thwart terrorist attacks.

The six attackers killed by security forces at the end of the hostage crisis — reportedly all Bangladesh nationals in their 20s who were from relatively wealthy families and well-educated — are said to have singled out foreigners as the targets of their bloody attack on a restaurant that is popular with the capital’s foreign community. That the Japanese victims had been working with the Japan International Cooperation Agency on a project to improve the country’s road traffic infrastructure didn’t matter to the terrorists.

IS claimed responsibility for the Dhaka killings. Its affiliated website reportedly called the attack a part of the operation against nations that join the international alliance that is fighting IS. But while the attackers are believed to be members of a local militant group that sympathizes with IS, its organized involvement in the attack, including whether there was a direct order, has not been made clear.

IS is said to be losing territory in its home turf of Syria and Iraq, where the extremist group has been hit hard by Russian and U.S. airstrikes. But it is believed that since last fall the group has been trying to conduct terrorist activities outside of the areas it occupies in an effort to sustain support and financing, and it has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in Paris, Belgium and the U.S.

Along with last week’s terrorist assault at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that killed 44 people and injured more than 200, and the suicide bombing in Baghdad on Sunday that claimed more than 130 lives [editor's note: the death toll is now 250], the carnage in the restaurant in Dhaka may have been in response to a call by IS for its supporters to stage terror attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan — which began in June and will end this week — to demonstrate its presence.

Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the attackers had “no connections with the Islamic State.” But Bangladesh is said to be one of the countries in Asia where the extremist group is targeting as it seeks to expand its influence outside the Middle East. If the Friday attack was indeed IS-inspired, it may not be the end of similar attacks in Asia, and such home-grown acts of terrorism will likely be harder to crack down on and prevent.

Past incidents of overseas terror attacks that claimed the lives of Japanese citizens have prompted calls for the government to improve its crisis management as well as its intelligence gathering and analysis efforts. But there are limitations to what Japan alone can do in collecting overseas information related to terrorist activities so it must cooperate closely with other countries. The government should also work together with the international community in the long term to dispel the seeds of terrorism that exist in societies worldwide — a task that may not be made easier by crushing IS militarily.

The News Lens has been authorized to republish this editorial. The original can be found here.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole