Saying the government would do whatever it needed to stop militants, Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal defended a Monday raid near Dhaka during which two suspected Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) members were killed.
“According to the information provided by our intelligence, we are doing whatever is necessary to contain militants … Therefore you see some successes in recent times in containing militancy,” Khan told BenarNews.
Members of the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite counter-terrorist police unit, early Monday raided an abandoned house in the Bhogra area in Gazipur district, about 25 km (15.5 miles) north of Dhaka.
Law enforcement agencies had been tracking the suspects based on information from intelligence reports, the home minister said.
“Our intelligence agencies have been active and vigilant for which we have foiled their planned attacks in recent times,” Khan added, pointing to a “handful of local militants who had been using the brand of the Islamic State.”
The two unidentified suspected JMB members who were killed on Monday tried to attack RAB officers, he said.
But it remained unclear whether RAB shot dead the two suspects or whether they died in explosion while allegedly trying to hurl explosives at officers.
‘Matter of serious concern’
Monday’s raid was the latest in a series of police operations targeting suspected members of JMB, a banned militant group.
“This is a matter of serious concern that army uniforms and badges are being used by the extremists. Possibly, they tried to evade security agencies by wearing camouflage uniforms,” former Army chief Lt. Gen. Mahbubur Rahman told BenarNews.
On Christmas Eve, police in Dhaka’s Mirpur district arrested seven suspected JMB members from an apartment full of explosives, handmade grenades and other bomb-making materials. The police said that the suspects were planning to carry out end-of-year attacks against religious minorities and foreigners.
But on the following day, Christmas, a suicide bomber blew himself up and injured three people during prayers at a mosque in in northwestern Bangladesh belonging to the country’s tiny Ahmadiyya sect.
Now, with 2016 fast approaching, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has urged people not to organize any open-air events after sundown on New Year's Eve. She made the appeal during an unscheduled discussion at Monday's cabinet meeting, according to two ministers.
Police have banned the carrying of licensed firearms in Dhaka on New Year’s Eve as part of special security measures and have already begun searching vehicles.
‘Can flatten two or three big rooms’
Acting on intelligence reports, the RAB team encircled an abandoned house near Jogitola in Bhogra, in an effort to arrest the alleged terrorists.
“They threw bombs on the RAB members. The RAB forces also fired shots,” RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told reporters at a briefing.
“They may have died while throwing a bomb.”
The raid started at 12:15 a.m. Monday and ended about two hours later.
Khan said RAB members recovered a huge quantity of explosives, homemade bombs, a pistol and jihadi books from the building that JMB members used as a meeting place.
The raid followed an early Sunday morning raid in the port city of Chittagong, in which three alleged JMB operatives were arrested. Officers seized MK-11 rifles, army camouflage uniforms, badges and bomb-making materials.
The three suspects were identified as Md. Nayeem, 25, Md. Rasel, 24, and Md Faisal, 25, according to Babul Akkter, an additional deputy commissioner of the detective branch with local police.
All three suspects were students at Chittagong University, Akkter told reporters.
“We arrested them with one MK11 sniper rifle, explosive gel (five kilograms), 12 army camouflage uniforms and badges, detonators, ammunition and bomb making materials,” Akhter said.
“Even this quantity of gel explosive can flatten two or three big rooms,” Abdul Jalil Mondal, the metropolitan police commissioner in Chittagong, told reporters at his office.
Bomber’s identity unknown
Meanwhile, the unidentified body of the suspected suicide bomber who attacked the Ahmaddiya mosque was buried on Sunday, police said.
“We have yet to confirm his identity. As nobody claimed his body, we have handed over to the Quantum Foundation for burial. He has been buried Sunday in Rajshahi,” Motiar Rahman, the officer-in-charge of the police station in Bagmara where the attack took place, told BenarNews.
The foundation is a philanthropic organization.
Before the man was buried, police took a DNA sample and finger prints to help them determine his identity, Rahman said.
After Friday’s attack on the Ahmadiyya mosque, the Islamic State extremist group claimed it was behind the incident, according to SITE Intelligence, a U.S.-based website that monitors online jihadist chatter and propaganda.
IS has claimed responsibility for that and other recent attacks in Bangladesh dating to the Sept. 28 killing of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella on Sept. 28.
Government leaders, including the home minister, continue to deny the existence of IS in Bangladesh.