Vol. 5 Num 585 Fri. January 20, 2006  
Front Page

Record hunt for Bangla Bhai in Kushtia
Daylong raid involves over 2,000 law enforcement men; 10 suspects held, residents asked to stay indoors

Joint forces threw a five-kilometre cordon around four villages in Kushtia early yesterday in the biggest-ever operation in recent times to arrest top brass of the banned Islamist militant organisation Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

The local police at 8:00am made an announcement over loudspeakers asking people of the villages Poradaho, Khajanagar, Jagati and Koburhat to stay indoors until the operation ends at 6:00am today.

They could not retrieve any bomb or explosive or firearm during the operation but arrested 10 people on suspicion.

Over 1,000 personnel of police, Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and ansar took part in the operation. Additional 1,000 lawmen joined them after 9:00pm. With the reinforcements, they were combing the entire area for the militants in a curfew like situation.

The issue became yesterday's talk of the country drawing public attention as rumour spread that militant kingpin Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai was arrested.

Inspector General of Police (IGP) Abdul Quayum while briefing reporters yesterday evening at the Police Headquarters, however, said none of the arrestees resembled Bangla Bhai or JMB chief Abdur Rahman.

"We are continuing the operation encircling a 5km area and we hope to arrest them if they are in the circle," he said.

The operation started at 6:00am on information from a reliable source that some members of JMB's highest tier Majlish-e-Shura and some other active JMB members were holding a meeting at a rice mill in Poradaho of Mirpur upazila in the morning.

Kushtia police, BDR men from local border areas and Rab men stationed in Kushtia and adjoining areas started the operation. Later, more Rab men from Dhaka flew on three helicopters to join the operation.

They cordoned three villages--Poradaho, Khajanagar and Koburhat--and part of Jagati village, a stronghold of Jamaat-e-Islami.

"About 1,000 members of police, Rab and BDR cordoned off five kilometres of area and started searching each house for the militants," the IGP told reporters.

The police told local journalists during the operation that they will open fire if any suspect runs to escape arrest.

No one was allowed to enter the cordoned area until 5:00pm when the operation was held off for a short time. The law enforcers then allowed people to leave the cordoned area after being sure that they are not involved with the militants in any way.

The identity of three of the 10 arrestees could be learnt; they are Sajib, 32, Riku, 22, and Biplob, 27. Sources said the three were involved with a local organisation named Bangla Cooperative Samity known to locals for its religion-based activities.

The joint forces raided the office of the organisation and conducted a one-hour operation to arrest them. The police said they suspect that the members of the organisation may be involved with the militants.

Meanwhile, hearing the rumour of Bangla Bhai's arrest, thousands of people from adjoining areas thronged and waited outside the law enforcers' cordon until yesterday evening.

Asked if the law enforcers had any information that Bangla Bhai or Abdur Rahman was attending the meeting at Poradaho, IGP Quayum said, "We did not have specific information about their presence, but we had information from a reliable source that 2-3 of JMB's Majlish-e-Shura members are present there. The two may or may not be among them."

On whether or not any of the 10 arrestees is a Majlish-e-Shura member or involved with the JMB in any way, he said the law enforcers have not found any proof of that until yesterday evening. "In fact, we do not know exactly what other Majlish-e-Shura members except Bangla Bhai and Abdur Rahman look like. We are working to be sure of the identity of the arrestees."

The IGP said the law enforcers will be able to arrest the militants if they are still inside the cordon. "No one with suspicious attitude or identity can escape our dragnet there."

The local police said they suspect the militants are working in the area in disguise and many of them might have shaved off their beard or changed outfits.

On the length of the operation, the IGP said, "We hope to get the result by tomorrow [Friday] noon."

Asked about the operation, State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar told reporters at 2:00pm yesterday that the operation was being conducted on intelligence information. "We have taken the information seriously and are conducting the operation.

We cannot undermine any such information," he said.

One of the choppers used in yesterday's operation against JMB top brass. Photo: Focus Bangla