Updated at 9:41 a.m. ET on 2016-10-09
The violent deaths of 12 suspected militants in four raids by Bangladeshi security forces on Saturday “totally destroyed” the military capabilities of extremist faction Neo-JMB by eliminating the leader of its military wing along with a top financier, officials said.
Eleven suspects were killed during the raids and a twelfth man fell to his death while trying to evade capture as authorities closed in on him, they said. The raids also disrupted plans by the group to attack members of Bangladesh’s Hindu and Shiite minorities during religious holidays being celebrated this week, according to the home minister.
Saturday’s operations by counter-terrorist police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) units brought to 32 the number of suspected Neo-JMB members who have died in raids by security forces since terrorists mounted a large-scale deadly attack at a café in Dhaka on July 1. Bangladeshi officials blame Neo-JMB, a faction of militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), for the attack.
“Our forces repeatedly urged them to surrender, but the militants instead shot at the law enforcers. So, we had no other alternative than to kill them,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.
One of the suspects, Abdur Rahman, a main financier for Neo-JMB, fatally injured himself on Saturday night by jumping from a five-story building in Savar, outside Dhaka, as officers were chasing him, and he later died in a local hospital, RAB spokesperson Mufti Mahmud Khan told reporters.
There has been a lull in terrorist attacks since Bangladesh launched its crackdown on Neo-JMB after the terrorist siege at the café, except for one that killed four people at a police checkpoint near the site of Bangladesh’s largest annual Eid-ul-Fitr prayer gathering, in northwestern Kishoreganj district, on July 7.
Before the attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant, Bangladesh had been gripped since last year by a series of smaller-scale machete-killings by militants who targeted secular bloggers, religious minorities, and others.
Altogether police and RAB have now launched eight raids against Neo-JMB since the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery, including one that killed the café’s five alleged attackers when security forces stormed the restaurant on July 2 to break the overnight siege. In all eight operations, only one suspect was captured alive, according to police sources.
Last week, a pair of suspected Neo-JMB members surrendered to police in Bogra district when they became the first to accept a cash incentive from the government in exchange for turning themselves in and promising to renounce radicalism. The two suspects each were handed checks of more than U.S. $6,000 from the home minister when they gave themselves up.
Military wing leader slain: officials
The operations on Saturday were the first to combine multiple raids in a single day.
Two of the raids on suspected Neo-JMB hideouts unfolded in Gazipur district on the outskirts of Dhaka, and a third one took place in the central district of Tangail. Seven suspected militants were killed during the first raid in Gazipur. Two other raids each left two suspects dead, according to officials.
The first operation took out Faridul Islam (alias Provat), the alleged head of Neo-JMB’s military wing, who is better known as “Akash,” state news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) reported.
Neo JMB had been led by Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen, but he was killed along with two other suspected militant in a police raid on the outskirts of Dhaka in late August, officials said.
Bangladeshi authorities said Chowdhury, 30, was the main planner of the café attack that left 29 dead: 20 diners, five attackers, two policemen shot from inside the cafe, a restaurant worker and a wounded man who later died of his injuries. Seventeen of the dead were foreign nationals.
The Middle East-based extremist group Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack, has published articles in its propaganda magazines alleging that Chowdhury headed its branch in Bangladesh.
The home minister and other top officials, however, have denied that IS has a presence in the country, saying that home-grown Neo-JMB was responsible.
“Akash took over as Neo JMB’s military [wing] leader after Tamim Chowdhury was killed. Today, Akash was confirmed killed. So, we have totally destroyed the military capabilities of the Neo JMB,” Khan told Benar.
‘No room for terrorism’: PM
Meanwhile, the Hindu festival of Durga Puja began in Bangladesh on Friday and was to go on through Tuesday, while Bangladeshi Shiite Muslims were preparing to celebrate Ashura this coming Wednesday.
Last October, a 16-year-old boy was killed and more than 85 Shiite worshipers injured when bombs went off as members of the religious community gathered for a march in Dhaka in celebration of Ashura.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack as well.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a gathering of Hindu worshipers at the Dhakeswari National Temple in Dhaka that her government was committed to cracking down on religious extremism.
“Our government has always taken stern action against terrorism and militancy and would continue to curb the twin demons with an iron hand ... there would be no place [for] terrorism and militancy on the soil of Bangladesh,” BSS quoted her as saying.
“Islam is a religion of peace and there is no room for terrorism and militancy in it ... we won't tolerate any terrorist acts in the name of religion,” the prime minister said.
Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.
This version clarifies the circumstances around the death of suspect Abdur Rahman.