The chief of the intelligence wing of Bangladesh’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) died Friday of a head injury sustained in a bombing in northeastern Sylhet district last week as army commandos raided a suspected militant den.
The news of the death of Lt. Col. Abul Kalam Azad came as Bangladeshi police on Friday launched other raids on suspected extremist hideouts in the northeast.
Azad was the third law enforcement officer to die from explosions that rocked Sylhet on March 25. Four other people were killed when bombs went off among onlookers near the site of the army raid.
“We are at war against terror. Anybody can die in the line of duty,” said Mohammad Moniruzzaman, Bangladesh’s Assistant Inspector General of Police.
On Facebook, Monirul Islam, the chief of Bangladesh’s counter-terrorist police unit, wrote that those responsible for Azad’s death would be brought to justice.
Dr. Sohel Mahmud, a forensic expert at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told reporters Azad died from a head wound caused by shrapnel.
Following the blasts, the officer was taken to the MAG Osman Medical College Hospital in Sylhet and then moved to a military hospital in Dhaka on the night of March 25. But as his condition deteriorated, he was flown to Singapore for treatment and later back to Dhaka.
The blasts on March 25 that injured about 50 people targeted police, journalists and other onlookers near a five-story apartment building in Sylhet where army commandos had launched a raid in the morning. Ending the raid on Tuesday evening, army and police officials said suspected Neo-JMB militant leader Mainul Islam (alias Musa) and three other extremists were killed.
On Thursday, police announced as many as eight people, including women and children, died when extremists set off explosives in a house in the Khalilpur area of Moulvibazar district as Strategic Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers raided their suspected hideout.
On Friday, police said they had not determined who among the eight dead were civilians or militants.
Lt. Col. Abul Kalam Azad
The house was one of three suspected militant hideouts surrounded by police on Wednesday, less than a day after the commandos had finished their operation in Sylhet. SWAT officers launched raids on the other suspected hideouts on Friday.
Police finished one of the raids when they found no one in the den, but the second at a suspected den in the Borohat area of Moulvibazar, about 20 km (12 miles) from the Khalilpur house, is expected to resume on Saturday morning. A police officer, Kaeser Uddin, was injured in a bomb attack but his injury was not life threatening, according to officials.
“The situation inside is critical. There is more than one room. We assume four to five militants are inside the house,” Islam said. “They have one bomb expert and set off explosions and fired at us several times.”
Islam said the den’s windows were bulletproof.
One police officer who requested anonymity told BenarNews that drones spied on and collected information about the den. He said the drones spotted three militants, including a woman.
As the raid, codenamed Operation Maximus, continued on Friday, residents appeared to stay off the streets.
“This is an unusual situation. We have been hearing the sound of explosions and firing. Everybody is in fear what happens next. We are passing days with fear and uncertainty,” Moulvibazar resident Fazlur Rahman told BenarNews.
Announcing the suspension Friday night, Islam said the militants had stockpiled a large quantity of explosives.
“When our SWAT members tried to get into the building, they exploded bombs,” Islam said.
Two suspected militants fled
At the other raid site in Comilla, about 160 km (100 miles) away, police recovered a suicide vest, bombs and explosives, but two suspected militants had already fled the house, officials said.
“The names of the militants are Anas (alias Anis) and Roni. Anas hails from Noakhlai while Roni is from Rajshahi,” Md Shafiqur Rahman, deputy inspector general of police in the Chittagong range, told reporters on Friday.
“The militants maintain a tactic. Before going out of the house, one militant sets a time for his return. If he does not return by the time, the other militants also flee,” Rahman said. “In this way, they fled. So, we failed to get them.
“But we were certain both of them were at the house,” he said without going into detail.
The two raids Friday are the 15th and 16th launched against militant groups since Neo-JMB members carried out an attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka that left 20 hostages dead, mostly foreigners, on July 1 and 2, 2016. Since then, at least 53 militants have been killed in raids, gunfights with security forces and suicide attacks.