Updated at 5:37 p.m. ET on 2017-05-11
Police raided a hideout of suspected Islamic militants who were armed with suicide vests and machetes in northwestern Bangladesh on Thursday, triggering a clash that killed at least six people, including a firefighter, officials said.
Four of those killed, including two women, belonged to the same family. Four police officers were injured, police and eyewitnesses told BenarNews.
The firefighter was killed by a female suspect who allegedly hacked him to death with a machete.
“Five of the deceased are militants,” said local police officer-in-charge Hifzur Alam Munsi, who said the raid took place in a village in Rajshahi district, about 300 km (187 miles) northwest of the capital Dhaka. “The militants have apparently been killed in a suicide blast.”
He said a woman and two children were rescued from the hideout. A second adult left the hideout as well.
The raid comes as authorities stepped up their battle against militants suspected of involvement in dozens of deadly attacks against writers, secular bloggers, gay-rights activists and religious minorities across Bangladesh. Those attacks that started in early 2013 mostly targeted individuals.
Police said among the dead was a man who was arrested about six months ago on suspicion of involvement with militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
Bangladesh authorities have blamed its offshoot, Neo-JMB for the major attack on a Dhaka café in July 2016 in which 20 people were killed, mostly foreigners. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina denies the presence of IS in the mostly Muslim country of 163 million people.
Since the cafe attack, 70 suspected militants have been killed in multiple raids launched across the country, including the five suspected militants who died Thursday.
Firefighter slain in cold blood
The raid on the militant hideout, a house built two months ago in a rice field, began early Thursday, police said.
Members of the Rajshahi district police, backed by the counter-terror unit of the Dhaka metropolitan police, cordoned off the area at Benipur village about 1 a.m., officials said. Firefighters were on standby.
“We had been requesting the insiders through loudspeakers to surrender since midnight. But they did not pay heed to our call,” Hifzur Munsi, the officer-in-charge, said. “In the morning, police fired a few gunshots. But they did not come out.”
There were no neighbors within a 1.5 km (1 mile) area and police said they had no idea how many people were inside the house.
As police took positions and cordoned off the area, firefighters began spraying the house’s mud walls, hoping to defuse any explosives inside.
Suddenly, the militants stormed out, throwing explosives, eyewitnesses said.
“A few people, wearing suicide vests and wielding machetes, came out from the house suddenly,” Hifzur Munsi said. “One of the suspects then grabbed a firefighter and hacked him repeatedly with a machete, as others blasted bombs.”
All the horrified policemen could do was quickly withdraw, he said. The scene was caught on camera (see video clip).
“We could not open fire as the firefighters were in the frontline,” Hifzur Munsi told BenarNews. “Many firefighters could have died had we opened fire at the terrorists.”
Officials could not immediately confirm how many of the suspects were wearing suicide vests. But a police officer told BenarNews a woman believed to be the mother of two rescued children surrendered before the clash. She was wearing a suicide vest packed with explosives.
Another person came of the house with the woman’s children, a 5-year-old boy and a 3-month-old child, the officer said. They were taken to a safe place.
Journalists were blocked from entering the area, but Godagari Municipality Mayor Monirul Islam Babu was allowed to visit the scene in the afternoon.
“I saw the remains of devastation,” he told reporters. “Dead bodies of five people are there.”
Security experts said militants have adopted bolder tactics by using more powerful explosives.
“The militants are carrying out suicidal attacks as the law enforcers were successful to keep them at bay,” Monirul Islam, chief of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews. “Once upon a time, they used to change locations. Now they are staying in their own houses along with arms and ammunition.”