Bangladesh police say they have arrested nearly 500 people over the last few days, following the killings of a police officer near Dhaka last week and a publisher of secular books on Oct. 31, and ahead of possible upcoming executions of two war criminals.
Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali daily newspaper, reported on Tuesday that police had arrested more than 1,350 people over two days, including members of the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami party.
Police, however, claimed that they arrested 470 people, including 182 criminals.
The arrests of people in the sweeps are within the code of criminal procedure and are a preventative measure in light of security concerns tied to recent terrorist attacks and other possible plots in the making, Inspector General of Police A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told BenarNews.
"We are arresting the persons facing [criminal] cases or have the criminal records; or the persons who are conspiring to create troubles in the country. Also, [we are arresting] the persons whom the intelligence agencies have detected as probable trouble makers,” Hoque said.
Those who have not done anything wrong will not face police action, he added.
A deadly month
The arrests come in the wake of a series of suspected Islamist attacks that have targeted Bangladeshis as well as foreigners.
On Nov. 4, Constable Mukul Hossain was stabbed to death by two youths on a motorcycle while manning a highway checkpoint on the outskirts of the Bangladeshi capital. Four fellow officers were injured trying to protect him.
On Tuesday, another constable was seriously injured in a machete attack at a checkpoint inside the Dhaka cantonment, and a suspect was arrested, police confirmed to BenarNews.
Hossain’s murder occurred four days after publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan was killed in his office at the Aziz Super Market. That same day, fellow publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, along with a writer and a blogger, survived a similar machete attack elsewhere in Dhaka.
The reported security sweeps by police also followed a bombing that targeted a Shiite religious procession in Dhaka on Oct. 24, and left two people and dozens more injured. The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for that attack as well as the shooting deaths in Bangladesh of two foreigners, which took place in late September and early October.
Bangladeshi officials, however, have denied that IS has a foothold in the country.
Death sentences expected soon
Elite members of the police Rapid Action Battalion and border guard agents now are rounding up suspects with criminal and alleged terrorist records based on intelligence reports, according to Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal.
“The trial of the militants and [the executions of] war criminals have been nearing. So some groups have been doing this to stop the trials and destabilize the country,” Kamal told reporters after the killing of Constable Hossain, referring to the trials of suspected criminals from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the opposition BNP, and former minister Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid of Jamaat are awaiting death sentences for crimes against humanity committed 44 years ago. Two Jamaat leaders, Abdul Kader Molla, and M. Qamaruzzaman, have already been put to death.
Kamal told reporters last week that all of the recent attacks, including the killings of five secular bloggers dating to February 2013, were “inter-linked,” and that the perpetrates were carrying out these acts under the guise of Islamist groups, including Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), among others.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury contributed to this report.