A suspected militant who planned to attack people marking Bangladesh’s National Mourning Day blew himself up in a Dhaka hotel room on Tuesday after officers confronted him, the country’s police chief said.
The suspect, identified as Saiful Islam, 21, set off a bomb at the Hotel Olio International in the Panthapath neighborhood, about 300 meters (984 feet) from a house in the adjacent Dhanmondi neighborhood where founding President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and much of his family were assassinated on Aug. 15, 1975.
Saiful, who was a madrassa student and a member of militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), had checked into the hotel armed with explosives on Monday night, Inspector General of Police A.K.M. Shahidul Haque told reporters. Police have blamed a faction of JMB for carrying out a terrorist attack at a local café, the Holey Artisan Bakery, that left 29 people dead in July 2016.
“We had the information that this militant planned to attack the people going to the Dhanmondi 32 to pay their respects. This precaution helped us to avoid an attack,” Haque told reporters, referring to Old Road No. 32 in Dhanmondi.
“We repeatedly urged him to surrender starting Monday night, but he rejected our pleas. … Finally he blew him up at around 9:45 a.m. as our forces started the operation to capture him,” he said.
Aug. 15 is observed in Bangladesh as a national day of mourning to mark the anniversary of the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of Sheikh Hasina, who is now the prime minister. She was out of the country when the assassination took place 42 years ago.
The explosion occurred about three hours after Hasina and President Abdul Hamid placed floral wreaths at the house, which is now a museum.
The blast ripped an outside wall from the hotel and injured a security guard and a police officer. Other guests and employees had been evacuated from the hotel, according to officials.
“A huge explosion followed and the wall of the room collapsed. It rocked the whole building,” Sanwar Hossain, an additional deputy commissioner of the counter terrorism unit, told BenarNews.
Fire brigade members rushed to the scene and took one injured person to a nearby hospital.
Haque identified Saiful as a JMB member who was a former member of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a faith-based political party. Jamaat-e-Islami and JMB are not linked.
Assistant Inspector General of Police Mohammad Moniruzzaman said Saiful was from Southwestern Khulna district and had been a political science student at B.L. College in Khulna.
A bomb blast ripped the outside wall from the Hotel Olio International in the Panthapath neighborhood in Dhaka, Aug. 15, 2017. [Focus Bangla]
Salahuddin, a salesman whose shop is in front of the hotel, told BenarNews that he saw troops mobilize after 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, but thought they were being deployed for the day of mourning.
“I sleep here. When I tried to open the shop, (the police) ordered us not to come out. After a while I saw members of different security agencies flood the area,” he said, adding that traffic came to a halt.
Salahuddin said he saw a Special Weapon and Tactics officer fire a shot from across the road, at around 9:44 a.m.
According to a Panthapath area resident, who asked not to be named, police had been conducting security checks in the area over the last two weeks.
“A person had to undergo three security checks before reaching Hotel Olio. How could he reach the hotel with explosives,” the resident told BenarNews.
Militancy Not Over
Earlier, Monirul Islam, the chief of the police’s counter-terrorist unit, told reporters that ongoing preemptive law enforcement attacks over the last year had eroded militant networks in Bangladesh. At least 70 suspected militants have been killed in police raids since the Holey Artisan attack, according to authorities.
Extremist groups are having a tough time regrouping, but militants will not disappear unless their distorted ideology was rooted out, Islam warned.
An analyst agreed.
“Look, militancy had been there, and now exists. This is yet to be eliminated. The law enforcers have done a commendable job. They must remain alert at all times,” Shafqat Munir, a fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, told BenarNews.