Three militants blew themselves up during a Bangladeshi police raid Tuesday near the Indian border, officials said, as authorities arrested two other suspects elsewhere and tightened security in preparation for Pope Francis’s highly anticipated visit later this week.
The trio most likely died in suicide explosions that caused a fire in a militant hideout in northwestern Chapai Nawabganj district, a police spokesman said. The slain men were believed to be members of Neo-JMB, a faction of homegrown militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which Bangladeshi authorities have blamed for a terrorist attack at a Dhaka café last year that left 29 people dead, including 17 foreigners.
The explosions on Tuesday occurred as members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the country’s anti-terror police, surrounded the suspected hideout, a tin-and-bamboo house in a rural area of Chapai Nawabganj.
“We used loudspeakers and repeatedly urged them to surrender. But they rebuffed our call, and threw grenades at our forces,” RAB media spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told reporters.
“RAB fired back. After the gun battle, we could hear explosions inside the thatched house,” Khan said, adding that authorities found the mangled remains of the suspects after the fire.
Police arrested the landlord, his wife and father-in-law, Khan said, adding that jailed militants offered information about the existence of the rented hideout in a remote shoal along the Indian border.
“The place is an ideal place for operating clandestine activities,” Md Alamgir Hossain, the head of the local administration, told BenarNews. He confirmed that the house was in a desolate area.
RAB’s bomb-disposal unit recovered two pistols, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and bomb-making materials among the debris, officials said.
Counter-terror officers launched a massive crackdown on suspected militant groups nationwide following the July 2016 attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in the Bangladeshi capital. More than 300 such raids have been carried out, RAB officials said Tuesday, but they declined to disclose the number of people killed in the operations.
According to a BenarNews tally, at least 80 suspected extremists have been killed in 29 raids since July last year.
Two ABT suspects caught
RAB officers arrested two suspected members of another militant outfit on Monday night in Dhaka, officials said.
Mohiuddin Faruki, a RAB police additional superintendent, told BenarNews that members arrested Abdur Razzaq, 28, and Abdul Momin (alias Sohel), 32, on suspicion of involvement with the banned extremist group Ansar-al-Islam. It is also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which has been blamed for recent killings of bloggers, publishers and gay-rights activists.
Faruki said police recovered explosives and books promoting extremist ideology.
The police operations took place as the Muslim-majority nation prepared for Pope Francis’s arrival on Thursday for a three-day visit.
Security in the capital has been tightened, with police officers deployed around churches the pontiff is scheduled to visit, police officials told reporters.