DHAKA: Bangladesh police have arrested an additional 2,000 suspected criminals including Islamist militants in an ongoing crackdown on extremists following a spate of gruesome murders, an officer said yesterday.
More than 3,000 people, including suspected ordinary criminals with existing warrants against them, were arrested on Saturday after police launched a controversial anti-militant drive across the Muslim-majority nation. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed on Saturday to catch “each and every killer” as Bangladesh reels from a wave of murders of religious minorities and secular and liberal activists that have spiked in recent weeks.
Among those arrested in the latest sweep were 48 suspected militants, many of them members of banned group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), police said. “We have arrested 2,132 people including 48 Islamist militants on the second day of the special drive,” Deputy Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidur Rahman said.
JMB is one of two local groups blamed for most of the recent killings. The government rejects claims of responsibility from the Islamic State (IS) group and a South Asian branch of Al-Qaeda, saying international jihadists have no presence in Bangladesh.
The arrests come as a part-time imam was detained in northwestern Pabna district over the latest killing, that of a Hindu ashram, or monastery, worker hacked to death on Friday. “He is a suspect and is being questioned over the murder,” local police chief Abu Quddus told AFP.
Bangladeshi authorities have come under mounting international pressure to end the string of attacks, which have left nearly 50 people dead in the last three years. But Bangladesh opposition parties have accused police of using the crackdown to suppress political dissent, saying many of those arrested were “ordinary and innocent people”.
The week-long crackdown is part of ramped up efforts to halt the killings, with five suspected Islamists members shot dead in gun battles with police in recent days. Hasina accuses the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Islamist party ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, of orchestrating the killings to destabilise the country after they failed to topple the government in last year’s transport blockade.
In recent days an elderly Hindu priest was found nearly decapitated in a rice field, while a Christian grocer was hacked to death near a church. IS claimed responsibility for those murders as well as that of the 62-year-old monastery worker. In addition to the arrests, police said they had seized nearly 1,000 motorcycles.
Motorbikes have been used in many of the attacks, with the government recently announcing a ban on motorcyclists carrying more than one passenger. A Hindu shop owner was hacked to death outside his store in a northern district late last month, while a Hindu tailor was killed in April. Although the country is officially secular, around 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million-strong population is Muslim, while some eight percent is Hindu.
Other victims have included liberal activists and secular bloggers along with two foreigners and two gay rights activists. Experts say a previous government crackdown on opponents, including a ban on Jamaat following a protracted political crisis, has pushed many towards extremism. – AFP