Updated at 5:29 p.m. ET on 2016-09-12
A suspect believed to be linked to a deadly terrorist siege in Dhaka in early July died during a police raid in the Bangladeshi capital over the weekend, amid questions about whether officers killed him or he committed suicide.
Police initially said they had shot dead Shamshed Hossain (alias Abdul Karim and Shamser Uddin) during the operation, but later claimed that he took his own life by slitting his throat.
Hossain is among nearly 20 suspected militants who have been killed during police operations since the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery café that left 20 hostages and two police officers dead on July 1 and 2.
Human rights groups have raised questions about police practices during such anti-militant raids where relatively few suspects are captured alive, including whether authorities have deprived those killed their day in court.
The recent deaths of suspected militants also added to the country’s record of extrajudicial killings in which scores of people have died to date this year alone, according to human rights groups.
Police are defending the actions of officers during recent raids, saying they face great risk when trying to arrest militants who are not afraid to die or kill policemen while resisting arrest.
“Two police officers were killed by the Holey Artisan attackers. Two more constables were killed in the Sholakia Eid congregation attack. They do not want to see more deaths of colleagues, and resort to shooting at the militants when militants reject the surrender calls,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) spokesman Masudur Rahman told BenarNews.
He was referring to the café attack and a July 7 attack on Bangladesh’s largest annual prayer service that marked the end of Ramadan.
“Our police force has yet to develop the expertise and professionalism necessary to tackle such a situation,” he added. “They are used to dealing with criminals, not the high-profile criminals like the militants. They need more training.”
On Sept. 3, the chief of national police suggested that militants did not deserve a chance for due process.
“Many people talk about the human rights of the militants. Why [should there be] human rights for the militants,” Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told a news conference following a raid where police reportedly killed a suspected militant.
‘He had a pistol and machete’
The killings of 18 other suspected militants that preceded Hossain's killing on Saturday occurred during four operations dating to July 2 – the morning when security forces killed five suspected attackers while storming in and breaking the overnight siege at the café.
Although Islamic State (IS) claimed the attack, Bangladeshi officials have denied that IS had a role in it, instead blaming home-grown militants.
In late July, nine more suspected militants were killed in a police raid in Dhaka. One suspect was captured.
And in late August and early September, Bangladeshi police killed four more suspected militants in two other raids in the greater Dhaka area. One of the four slain suspects was Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen who was the leader of Neo JMB, police said. According to IS propaganda magazine Dabiq, he was the “emir” of IS’s network in Bangladesh.
Six days later, police killed Maj. Zahidul Islam, a suspected militant and renegade army officer who was known as “Major Murad” among militant ranks. Police believe that he had trained the young men who carried out the café attack.
On the night of Sept. 2, as police and security personnel closed in on Major Murad who was holed up in an apartment in Dhaka’s Rupnogar area, at least three police officers were shot or suffered machete cuts as they tried to apprehend him, DMP spokesman Masudur Rahman said.
“Look, he had a pistol and machete. When the officers were injured, the police were forced to shoot him dead. Otherwise, there could be more casualties,” Rahman told Benar.
At least 98 killed in 2016
However, local human rights groups are questioning the conduct of police and members of the elite counter-terror unit Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in such operations. They say the problem of extrajudicial killings persists nationwide and undermines the rule of law.
At least 98 suspected of militant and other criminal activity have been killed this year during operations by the security services, according to rights organization Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK).
Killing a person suspected of being involved in killing others violates the rule of law, deprives a suspect of trial, and is unconstitutional, ASK Executive Director Nur Khan Liton said.
“We have a constitution and we live in a civilized world. So we cannot accept extrajudicial killings …,” Liton told BenarNews.
Another Bangladeshi rights group, Odhikar, reported that at least 108 people were killed in extrajudicial incidents between Jan. 16 and Aug. 16.
“We, the rights bodies, have been in deep trouble for criticizing the extrajudicial killings,” Adilur Rahman, who heads Odhikar, told Benar News.
“Our [web]site has been blocked and our office is almost closed. There is no space for us to criticize the police or the government on extrajudicial killings.”