After killing two alleged extremists holed up in a five-story apartment building in Sylhet district, Bangladesh army officials on Sunday announced commandos would need more time to finish the raid that began on Saturday – a day when six people were killed.
Two police and four other people were killed in two attacks Saturday evening outside the militant den, marking the first time militants carried out attacks while police and military officers were conducting operations, according to officials.
On Sunday, army spokesman Brig. Gen. Fakhrul Ahsan told reporters that one of the alleged militants blew himself up and others remained inside the building.
“We have confirmed the death of two militants. One of them wore a suicide vest,” Ahsan briefed reporters Sunday afternoon about the raid’s progress. “Our commandos fired as the two militants started running (inside the building). One of them detonated the suicide vest after they fell,” he said.
In an effort to gain control of the building, Ahsan said the commandoes fired rocket launchers in the morning but other suspected militants remained holed up. The commandos followed up with tear gas shells.
“Then the militants got troubled and they started moving,” he said, adding he did not know how many remain in the building.
“They are very cautious and are clad in suicide vests,” he said. “They have been carrying small arms, explosives, IEDs (improvised explosive devices) – they are well-equipped.
Ahsan said the militants placed IEDs at different strategic spots of the building to slow the advance of the commandos.
Witnesses described hearing explosions inside the building at around 9:15a.m. By 11:45 a.m., they heard four explosions, the last described as massive.
“They (militants) are picking up and throwing the grenades we are using against them back at us. They also know the tactic of setting a fire to counteract tear gas,” Ahsan said.
Around 7 p.m. Saturday, a man carrying a polythene bag tried to join onlookers and reporters near the apartment building in Sylhet district, about 250 km (155 miles) from Dhaka. As people asked him what he was carrying, the man replied a red leafy vegetable before an explosion occurred.
When police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers rushed to the scene, a second device exploded, leaving six dead and as many as 40 people injured.
Officials identified the officers killed as police inspector Chowdhury Md Kawser and officer Monirul Islam. At least three other police were injured.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said onlookers have since been banned from gathering near the apartment.
He told BenarNews that the commandos were conducting the raid carefully to prevent loss of life and wealth, adding some “big fish” could be inside the building, without naming anyone.
“Our commandoes are doing their jobs and we do not know when the operation will end,” Kamal said.
On Friday as police focused on the incident in Sylhet, a man died when the bomb he was carrying blew up in front of a police checkpoint outside Dhaka’s main international airport. It was the second explosion in a week involving a suicide bomber near the aviation hub, authorities said.
SITE Intelligence, a U.S.-based website that monitors online communications among Islamic militant groups worldwide, reported the extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the Friday and Saturday explosions.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said the Friday incident was not related to last week’s explosion at a camp near the airport housing Bangladesh’s counter-terrorist Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). On March 17, two RAB members were injured when a suicide bomber detonated his bomb after scaling a wall and infiltrating the camp.