The assault rifles used in the terror attack on Gulshan's Holey Artisan Bakery were made in West Bengal with the help of Pakistani gunsmiths, said a terrorist arrested by Special Task Force (STF) of Kolkata police.
The terrorist, one of the six who were arrested in September in connection with Khagragarh bomb blast, made the confession to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) of India, the Times of India reported on Saturday.
The deadly terror attack left 23 people dead, including two policemen and 17 foreigners. The five terrorists were also killed during the rescue operation.
Earlier, investigators of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC) unit of Bangladesh Police said they had learnt that the rifles entered Bangladesh through the Indian border, and they notified the NIA in this regard.
“We learnt this during our investigation of Gulshan attack. Now we will communicate with the NIA before we decide on our next steps regarding the investigation,” CTTC chief Monirul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune on Saturday.
Gulshan attack arms reached Dhaka in mango baskets
According to the arrested terrorist, Pakistani tribal gunsmiths clandestinely visited Malda district of West Bengal to train gunsmiths from Munger, who set up base in the border district to make AK-22 assault rifles. These weapons were then smuggled into Bangladesh via Chapainawabganj.
NIA investigators suspect that the Pakistanis who conducted the training were from the Darra Adam Khel community that resides in a village located between Peshawar and Kohat. The community is believed to regularly help the Taliban in duplicating modern weapons.
“We are not sure yet, but the language they mentioned is spoken in and around the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan where the village is located," a senior NIA officer said.
If expert gunsmiths did come from Darra Adam Khel to train men in Malda, investigation agencies have reasons to worry. These Pakistani tribals can copy nearly any weapon – from pen pistols and hand-grenades to automatic rifles and anti-aircraft guns. Darra gunsmiths are said to have the ability to duplicate any new rifle within 10 days.
Earlier, CTTC chief Monirul categorically mentioned Munger in connection with the rifles, which prompted Bihar police to launch an investigation into the matter, the Times of India reported.
"The Bihar police in a communique to Bengal police has confirmed that the arms manufacturers and smugglers had set up units in Malda and other places in Bengal," said an STF officer.
Use of AK22 rifles rising
Both the CTTC and the NIA believe that the consignment of AK-22 rifles and pistols reached the terrorists in Dhaka a month before the Gulshan terror strike.
CTTC chief Monirul Islam said the rifles entered Bangladesh through the Chapainawabganj border, where an arms smuggling group received and consignment and sent it to Dhaka inside mango baskets.
Missing New JMB leader Nurul Islam Marjan, who was the field-level coordinator of Gulshan attack, received the consignment in Dhaka and delivered it to the militant den in Bashundhara Residential Area.
“A large amount of mangoes came to Dhaka from Chapainawabganj in baskets at the time and the militants took advantage of that to elude law enforcers,” the CTTC chief added.
What intrigued the NIA was the duplication of AK-22 rifles instead of the AK-47, which is more popular among both terrorists and security agencies.
A semi-automatic rifle originally manufactured in Romania, AK-22 is uncommon in India, and hence, difficult to duplicate.
But Bangladesh has seen a rise in the use of AK-22 rifles in recent years as they are easily available compared to AK-47 rifles.
Around two dozens of AK-22 rifles have been recovered from Chittagong and Dhaka in the last two years, including the three from the Gulshan attack. At least 13 AK-22 rifles were seized from Chittagong district last year, and most of these rifles were bought by militant group Shahid Hamza Brigade, according to CTTC sources.
Terrorists prefer AK-22 rifles since they are similar to the AK-47 rifles, handy, cheap and less noisy, they said.
Pakistan's booming arms market