One of Bangladesh’s most notorious drug dealers died while in police custody Friday after armed men tried to snatch him away and traded shots with law-enforcement officials, authorities said.
Saiful Karim, 40, died during a “crossfire” while accompanying police officers to Teknaf Sadar port near the banks of the Naf River, where his unidentified accomplices were expected to hand over their delivery of banned drugs, according to Prodip Kumar Das, officer-in-charge of Teknaf police station.
“We launched our operation after receiving information that he had off-loaded a large cache of yaba pills in the bank of the Naf River,” Prodip told BenarNews, referring to Karim.
Prodip said the shootout began when the gunmen opened fire at officers in a bid to rescue Karim and snatch away the yaba tablets, which contain a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine. He said Karim had been under police custody since Thursday.
Two officers were injured in the gunfight and the suspects fled on foot, police said. More than 350 people have been killed since the government launched its anti-narcotics crackdown in May 2018, according to official figures.
Bangladesh seized a record 53 million yaba pills and killed almost 300 suspected drug dealers last year, officials said. Rights groups condemned the bloody crackdown, saying the record haul proved the anti-drugs campaign had failed to make an impact on smuggling operations.
Noor Khan, former executive director of the rights group Ain O Salish Kandra, slammed Karim’s killing, accusing police officers of staging the gunfight to hide “big names” involved in the illegal drug trade.
“We have been watching Saiful Karim’s posts on Facebook for a few weeks. He apologized for his role and promised to become a good guy,” Khan told BenarNews, referring to the suspect's alleged drug links.
But Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal rejected Khan’s allegations, saying law-enforcement officers do not kill people whimsically.
“They conduct drives with specific information and only open fire when the opposition tries to kill them,” Khan told BenarNews, referring to the police. “They have every right to save their lives.”
The Home Ministry previously identified Karim as the country’s second-biggest drug lord in its list of 1,250 suspected drug dealers operating in the nation of 165 million people. After authorities linked him to the drug trade, he reportedly left Bangladesh and was living in Dubai.
At least 24,000 drug suspects are serving time in prison, officials told BenarNews.