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B'desh: 3 killed, 31 injured as commandos storm militants' den



[ March 27, 2017 ]

Dhaka: At least three people were killed and 31 injured today in two blasts when Islamist militants hurled explosives on people as army commandos stormed their hideout in Bangladesh's northeastern Sylhet city following a 30-hour security siege. "Two civilians and a policeman have been killed in separate blasts outside the militant hideout," said Golam Kibria, commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police.




"Five of the injured are law enforcers," he told The Daily Star.

The first blast happened around 7:00 p.m. about 400 metres off the five-storey building where the militants were hiding. It targeted the huge crowd witnessing the operation codenamed "Twilight" and policemen deployed there as part of a cordon, killing two civilians. Another blast took place in front the hideout an hour later that killed the policeman. "The Rapid Action Battalion and armed policemen had replaced onlookers at the first blast site when the second attack happened," an eyewitness told PTI.

The injured have been admitted to hospitals, officials said. The first blast occurred shortly after an army spokesman hinted that the commandos were set for the final assault on the extremists, after they had evacuated the building of the residents with the help of firefighters and other officials.

The militants are said to have spread across the building and planted Improvised Explosive Devices as traps, contrary to earlier reports they had taken over only the ground floor. Authorities were yet to hold a briefing for the media after the blasts. But Brigadier General Fakhrul Ahsan has said the number of militants holed up is not yet confirmed.

When asked about how long the commando operation could take, he said: "It is the commander of the operation, who will decide how it will be conducted or when it could end." Sylhet-based 17 Infantry Division's Major General Anwarul Momen is leading the operation, a military spokesman said, which was assisted by police's SWAT and counter-terrorism units. The elite Rapid Action Battalion is also involved.

The militants have carried out 12 explosions since the operation was intensified this morning after the nearly 30-hour security siege around the building failed to flush them out. Police had raided the building early morning Friday and cordoned off the area. Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) chief Monirul Islam said they got information that JMB chief Musa along with some other JMB militants were in Sylhet, but it was not clear if they were the ones hiding in the building.

The neo-JMB, said to be inclined to the Islamic State, was behind the July 1 terror attack on a Dhaka cafe in which 22 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed. Earlier today, TV channels were barred from broadcasting the operation "live" but their reports showed commandos taking positions around the building. Witnesses said smoke billowed out of the building and they heard intermittent explosions and gunshots from the building. People in the neighbourhood have been advised to remain indoors as the operation was still in progress.

Reports have said at least two suspected militants, including a female, were on the ground floor of the building but a police officer later feared a "whole lot of them (neo-JMB operatives)" could be there. Police had urged the two suspected militants, staying in the building as tenants for three months, to surrender, but they refused. The militants shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest) and told police to 'send your SWAT team'.

Authorities have cut off gas and power lines of the building since last night. The operation "Twilight" was launched after a suicide bomber last night blew himself up at the international airport in Dhaka in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. It came a week after an identical attack on a RAB camp in Dhaka.

Police had tracked down the Sylhet hideout less than a week after they busted two militant dens on the outskirts of the southeastern port city Chittagong. Bangladesh has been witnessing a spate of attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities since 2013. The country launched a massive crackdown on militants specially after the Dhaka cafe attack.
PTI