Updated at 4:17 p.m. ET on 2019-02-13
Malaysian police shot and killed an alleged ring leader and a member of a syndicate responsible for at least 13 kidnappings targeting Bangladeshi workers, while rescuing a victim during a raid outside Kuala Lumpur, authorities said Wednesday.
The two killed in Tuesday’s raid were identified as Bangladeshi nationals. Police said both were part of a criminal ring that targeted Bangladeshis because it was easier to communicate with their families back home to collect ransom.
“The suspects opened fire when they realized our presence and the police team returned fire, killing the suspects,” Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Mazlan Lazim said, adding that police seized a semi-automatic pistol and a machete during the operation.
However, Malaysian police did not release the names of the slain suspects or the victim who was freed.
The victim was kidnapped on Feb. 8 along a road in Kuala Lumpur and held captive at a house in Kajang district outside the city. The syndicate had demanded 200,000 ringgit (U.S $49,000 or 4.125 million Bangladeshi taka) in ransom from the victim’s family, he said.
Mazlan said officers had received a tip that the victim was being held at the house.
Investigators determined that the two suspects were linked to the killings of two Bangladeshi workers whose bodies were found near a garbage dump in Kuala Lumpur and a river in Selangor state, the chief added. The bodies were missing toes and one was in a state of decomposition.
“Kuala Lumpur police conducted further investigation after the two bodies were found on Jan.13 and we determined that the suspects were believed to be responsible,” Mazlan said.
Following the shootings, police arrested two suspected Malaysian members of the syndicate on Tuesday and seized a mini multipurpose vehicle.
Police revealed that the syndicate was responsible for at least 13 kidnappings involving Bangladeshi workers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor since 2017. The syndicate had collected 2.5 million ringgit ($614,000 or 51.5 million taka) in ransom, officials said.
“It would be tough to kidnap victims of other nationalities … But it is easier among them,” a high-ranking police source told BenarNews, explaining that the Bangladeshi syndicate had targeted their countryman for kidnapping because it did not face a language barrier in demanding ransom from family members.
The kidnappings were cause for concern, said Naheedul Huq, executive member of the Malaysia Bangladesh Forum Association in Kuala Lumpur, a NGO that reaches out to Bangladeshi expatriates here. He urged police to investigate to learn why the Bangladeshis were being targeted.
“The ransom asked for that could amount to hundreds of thousands of ringgit as reported in the news, but that does not make sense because migrant Bangladeshi workers earn very little, somewhere between 1,000-plus and 2,000-plus ringgit. Furthermore they need to settle their loans in migrating to Malaysia and pay annual levies,” he told BenarNews.
“Their families at home are not rich either. So they're not wealthy to begin with, so I'm not sure why kidnappers would want to target our nationals.”
He also asked that both governments work together.
“The Bangladeshi High Commission in Kuala Lumpur should sit down with the Malaysian Home Ministry to discuss the issue of Bangladeshi workers’ security in the country,” he said.
The Bangladesh embassy in Kuala Lumpur did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BenarNews.
These cases had an element of human trafficking because the victims were held against their will, said Glorene Das, executive director of the Malaysian human rights group Tenaganita.
“As such, the case must be handled accordingly by the police,” she said.
“Tenaganita knows that the relevant authorities are well aware of who they are, therefore we hope that the syndicate members are prosecuted and convicted. We also hope the victims get justice and not be criminalized because of their undocumented status, but support and safety is provided,” she added.
Bangladeshis often are the victims of kidnapping syndicates, the police source said.
In November 2018, four men including a Bangladeshi pleaded not guilty to theft, kidnapping, extortion and causing hurt to two Bangladeshi construction workers in Johor state.
They were charged with kidnapping two victims from their workers dormitory in Forest City and confining them at an abandoned substation for two days to extort money from them. If convicted of charges related to wrongful confinement for the purpose of extortion, they could face three years in prison and a fine.
In 2017, a group of college students in Selangor were charged with kidnapping a Bangladeshi student. All three pleaded not guilty.
Malaysia’s home ministry reported that more than 220,000 Bangladeshis were working in the country in 2017, according to media reports.
Bangladeshis make up about one-eighth of the foreign workforce, trailing only Nepalese and Indonesian workers, the Khazanah Research Institute reported.