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Kerry urges Bangladesh to step up efforts against terrorism

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Secretary of State John Kerry called Monday for Bangladesh to step up efforts to fight extremist violence and protect and promote human rights amid increasing concern about terrorism in the South Asian nation in the wake of a series of militant attacks.

Kerry, on his first trip to Bangladesh as America’s top diplomat, met in Dhaka on Monday with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Foreign Minister Abdul Hassam Mahmood Ali, opposition officials, and students.

Bangladesh is struggling to deal with the rash of attacks, the most recent of which killed 20 people, including 17 foreigners, at a popular restaurant last month in Dhaka, the capital.

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The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities maintain that ISIS has no presence in the country and that a local banned group, Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, was behind it.

After his stop in Bangladesh, Kerry traveled to India later Monday for the seventh meeting of the US-India strategic dialogue, which seeks to improve security and well as economic and development ties between the nations.

Some have accused Bangladesh of turning a blind eye to the possibility of outsiders radicalizing elements of the Muslim-majority nation.

Kerry rejected that criticism, saying he does not believe that ‘‘the government of a Bangladesh has its head in the sand.’’

But he spoke pointedly of the transnational threat posed by terrorism. The July 1 attack on Dhaka’s Holey Artisan Bakery ‘‘was an outrage clearly designed to divide Bangladesh, designed to try to cut off this welcoming society from the outside world,’’ Kerry said.