Extremists hurled grenades at officers and shots were fired as police encircled two of three suspected militant dens in Northeastern Bangladesh, where security forces moved in late Wednesday to flush them out, authorities said.
The police operations targeting militant hideouts in two locations in Moulvibazar district and a third one in Comilla district came a day after officials announced an end to a 72-hour raid by army commandos that targeted a Neo-JMB extremist den in northeastern Sylhet district.
Ten people were killed, including four suspected militants and two police officers, and some 50 others were injured during the course of that raid – the longest counter-terrorist operation in Bangladeshi history.
On Wednesday, police surrounded suspected militant hideouts in Borohat neighborhood and Nasirpur village in Moulvibazar district, and in Kotbari in Comilla district, about 160 km (100 miles) away.
The militants in Moulvibazar attacked police with explosives as they closed in, officials said. No injuries were reported.
“There are reports of firing and explosions at the houses [in Moulvibazar],” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.
“The militants responded by opening fire when they were asked to surrender,” Fazlur Rahman, the mayor of Moulvibazar, told reporters after visiting adjacent areas where two of the militant dens were located.
More big fish?
Senior local police official Kamrul Ahsan said members of a SWAT team and a police counter-terrorist unit launched a raid targeting the den in Nasirpur at around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (local time).
The raid, codenamed Operation Hitback, was ongoing late Wednesday night.
Ahsan said police and SWAT officers were preparing for a similar raid on the Borohat den.
Kamal told reporters that eight militants could be hiding in the two dens.
“There could be some big fish inside,” Kamal said, referring to potential militant leaders.
Meanwhile, Comilla district Police Superintendent Shah Md Abid Hossain told reporters that a police counter-terrorism unit on Wednesday afternoon surrounded a three-story house where suspected extremists were holed up. Hossain said police believe they could have bombs inside the house.
In Nasirpur, resident Mahbubur Rahman told reporters he heard gunshots and explosions at regular intervals after police encircled the house early in the day. He said police told people to stay away from the scene to avoid another attack on bystanders.
On Saturday, two police officers and four other people were killed when two bombs exploded among onlookers near a five-story apartment bloc in Sylhet district, as army commandos conducted the raid on a Neo-JMB den inside the building.
Three days later, the army announced that it had finished the raid. Police officials said they had identified Neo-JMB leader Mainul Islam (alias Musa) as one of the four militant killed during the raid.
Bangladeshi police have blamed Neo-JMB, a faction of Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh, for carrying out an attack on upscale café in Dhaka that killed 20 civilians, mostly foreigners, last year.
Since the July 2016 attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery café – the deadliest terrorist siege in Bangladesh’s 46-year history – police have mounted more a dozen raids against militants in different parts of the country. At least 53 militants have been killed in raids, gunfights with security forces and suicide attacks since then.
Mahfujul Haque Marzan, a professor of criminology at Dhaka University, told BenarNews that raids and killings were a short-term measure against extremists.
“We have failed to counter their ideology with a better ideology, which can change their violent philosophy. Therefore, the militants have turned desperate for the losses of their fellows,” he said.