The apparent leader of Bangladesh militant faction Neo-JMB has been identified as one of four suspected extremists killed during a 72-hour raid by army commandos in the country’s northeast, police officials said Tuesday.
Mainul Islam (alias Musa) who took over Neo-JMB, an offshoot of Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh, was killed during the operation that began over the weekend as commandoes moved in on a militant hide-out inside a five-story apartment building in Sylhet district, police said.
Musa was an associate of Neo-JMB leader Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian of Bangladeshi origin and suspected mastermind of an overnight siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka in July 2016, during which 20 hostages were killed in Bangladesh’s deadliest terror attack.
“Matching the photos, we assume that Musa is one of the four militants killed in the operation, but the identities of other three militants, including a woman, are yet to be determined,” a counter-terrorism official told BenarNews on the condition of anonymity. Police collected DNA evidence from the militants to confirm their identities.
Officials told BenarNews that they learned of Musa’s role as the key organizer of Neo-JMB following the killings of leaders Chowdhury, Tanvir Quadri and Major Zahidul Islam during an anti-militant crackdown by police and security forces in the months after the café attack.
Apart from the militants, two police officers and four civilians were killed and about 50 others injured Saturday night when two bombs exploded among a crowd of onlookers near the building.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Fakhrul Ahsan told reporters that commandos killed all four militants who were holed up inside the apartment building during Operation Twilight, the code-name for the raid that began Saturday morning. He said the army ended its operation at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and turned the building over to police to conduct their investigation.
Ahsan said the four extremists were well-trained and armed.
“All of them wore suicide vests,” he said, adding they planted explosives throughout the building to harm commandoes.
Police said the raid was the longest in Bangladesh history. A raid by security forces that broke the terrorist siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery lasted about 20 minutes.
“Our aim was to save people’s lives. The whole situation was under our control. Our forces carried out the operation with maximum safety as the building was risky,” Ahsan said.
Mainul Islam (alias Musa) [Star Mail file photo]
Operation began Thursday
Police surrounded the building early Thursday after receiving a tip about the militant den. They were joined by SWAT members and army commandos on Friday.
At one point on Friday, the extremists challenged police. A witness told BenarNews they shouted “send in SWAT, why wait?”
“The militants had a plan to commit suicide by killing the security forces, so they urged us to send in SWAT members,” Abdul Mannan, an additional deputy commissioner of the police’s counter-terrorism unit, told BenarNews.
“We had information that they planted bomb on a motorcycle full of petrol. If the blast occurred, the whole building would blow away.”
The commandos launched the raid on Saturday while police and SWAT continued to hold their posts. Two of the militants were killed by Sunday.
Mohammad Moniruzzaman, an assistant inspector general of police, told BenarNews that officers had been tracking the militants.
“Many of them had been trying to carry out some attacks, but they do not have the capability to launch big coordinated attacks,” he said. “The aim of such stray attacks is they want to show that they are not finished.”
Safqat Munir, a fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said law enforcement agencies should be praised for their efforts in taking down the extremists.
“But the overall situation is alarming. The area where the Atia Mahal is located is densely populated. Setting up a den at such a place is really alarming,” he told BenarNews.
Since the Holey Artisan attack on July 1-2, 2016, security forces have carried out 13 raids in different parts of the country. At least 53 militants have been killed in raids, gunfights and suicide attacks since then, according to officials.