Updated at 10:49 a.m. ET on 2017-03-31
Children were among as many as eight people who died when extremists set off explosives inside a house in Northeastern Bangladesh to avoid being arrested or killed in a shootout as officers raided their suspected hideout, police said Thursday.
Monirul Islam, the chief of Bangladesh’s counter-terrorist police unit, told reporters there were women and children inside the house in the Khalilpur area of Moulvibazar district as police raided the suspected militant den, and that seven to eight bodies were found. Police said they were almost certain that members of the Neo-JMB militant faction were inside as well.
However, police said they had not yet determined how many militants and how many children were among the dead. At least 17 people have been killed during a series of counter-terrorist raids launched by police in northeastern Bangladesh since Saturday.
“We have seen horrific scenes inside the house – human body parts were strewn inside two rooms of the house. The number of body parts gives us the impression that there were seven to eight persons,” Islam told reporters at the Khalilpur Union Parishad building in the district.
“There was a stench and bad odor coming out of the decomposed body parts. They committed suicide much earlier by detonating explosives when they saw there was no way to escape,” Islam said.
Operation Hitback was the 14th raid launched against militant groups since Neo-JMB members carried out an attack at a café in Dhaka that left 20 hostages dead, mostly foreigners on July 1 and 2, 2016. Since then, at least 53 militants have been killed in raids, gunfights with security forces and suicide attacks.
Thursday’s raid followed a 72-hour-long raid in Sylhet, another district in the northeast, that ended on Tuesday and during which 10 people were killed, including four suspected Neo-JMB members.
Two other militant dens
At a late afternoon press conference that followed the end of the raid in Khalilpur, which began on Wednesday evening, Islam said police were preparing to launch a similar raid on a nearby house. On Wednesday, officers had surrounded the suspected militant den in the Borohat area of Moulvibazar, about 20 km (12 miles) away, from which extremists allegedly attacked police with grenades.
A counter-terrorism unit official who requested anonymity told BenarNews that police planned to launch a raid at this location on Friday.
Authorities that day also plan to raid another potential militant hideout in the Kotbaru area of Comilla, another northeastern district.
“We will carry out operation against the militants on Friday,” Shah Abid Hossain, the superintendent of police in Comilla, told reporters on Thursday.
The ongoing police action did not slow Comilla voters from reelecting Monirul Haque Sakku mayor.
“There was a polling station near the suspected militant den. People walked past the house. There was huge rush of voters at the center. So, the voters were not intimidated by the militants,” a journalist who covered the Comilla city corporation polls told BenarNews on Thursday.
Group did not mix with neighbors
Islam said the slain militants were not local and neighbors did not know much about them.
Ujjal, a rickshaw puller who lived near the house, told BenarNews the residents did not mix with anyone.
“They immediately entered the house when they saw us. We could not see anything as the windows had been curtained at all times,” he said.
Ujjal said he saw two men – one about 45 to 50 and the other in his early 30s.
“I supposed that they were father-in-law and son-in-law in relations. At times, three girls were seen playing. The girls’ ages were between 2 and 7, but they wore dresses like veils,” he said.
Islam said the militants planted IEDs (improvised explosive devices) within the one-story house, and those devices were similar to ones used in previous attacks.
The three hideouts that were surrounded on Wednesday were detected less than a day after army commandoes announced they had finished Operation Twilight, a raid on a five-story apartment building in Sylhet that began Saturday. Officials identified suspected Neo-JMB leader Mainul Islam (alias Musa) as one of four suspected extremists killed in the raid.
On Saturday night while the Sylhet raid was in progress, two police officers and four other people were killed when two bombs exploded among onlookers.
An earlier version contained different information about the number of people killed during raids in northeastern Bangladesh since March 25.