Vol. 5 Num 586 Sat. January 21, 2006  
Front Page

Kushtia operation ends in fiasco

The government believes Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) top brass, who were reportedly holding a secret meeting in Poradaho in Kushtia on Thursday, had fled before the fully-fledged operation began.

The eighteen-and-a-half-hour-long biggest ever operation ended at 1:30am yesterday without holding any JMB operatives, leave alone any top leaders, much to the frustration of locals, who underwent untold ordeals.

Primarily, a 100-strong local force started the operation and three helicopters took commandos of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) from Dhaka.

Sources in local law enforcement agencies said the information of the operation was leaked but their high-ups ruled out the possibility.

State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar told reporters yesterday there was "enough time" for anyone to flee before the fully-fledged operation started.

About 1,000 men from police, Rab and Bangladesh Rifles searched every house in 10 villages in two upazilas. They were reinforced with another 700-strong force.

But the JMB 'top brass' had enough time to escape as primarily the number of force was inadequate to seal off the entire area, the minister added.

He however repeatedly said the information that top leaders of the banned outfit met at a secret meeting came from "a very reliable source".

"We cannot take such information lightly. We immediately started the operation with local force. But that was not enough for searching the entire area."

The minister, now at the helm of the ministry, said it took "a good time" for additional forces including Rab personnel to reach the area from Dhaka and join the local force. "Five minutes are enough for escaping," he told the reporters.

The operation started in two phases -- at 7:00am on Thursday and at 5:00pm the same day. It was wrapped up at 1:30am yesterday with the arrest of 10 locals in Ailchara, Ballavpur, Katdah, Khajanagar in the sadar upazila and Poradaho Bazaar, Dostpara, Koburhat, Chitholia, Khoerchara, Baliashisha and Swarupkathi in Mirpur upazila, reports our Kushtia correspondent.

Six of them were released yesterday. Three of the arrestees -- Sajib, 32, Riku, 22, and Biplob, 27, -- were members of local Bangla Cooperative Samity known for its religion-based activities. Local police officials suspect they are involved in militant activities.

The three along with another man are being interrogated in the custody of law enforcers in a secret place, which local authorities declined to disclose.

The government or the law enforcement agencies are yet to make any official disclosure of the arrestees' involvement with the JMB.

Locals said the law enforcers called people, who were asleep, and frisked them and their houses at gunpoint. But the operation ended without any arrest of JMB top brass or seizing any bombs, explosives or firearms.

Locals questioned whether the information from 'reliable source' as claimed repeatedly by Lutfozzaman Babar and Inspector General of police (IGP) Abdul Quayum was true.

Asked about massive preparation for the operation on the basis of such information, the IGP on Thursday told reporters they have strong trust in the source.

On the other hand, Rab Director General Abdul Aziz Sarker declined to term the operation a failure.

"Although we could not arrest any militant leaders, the operation has a lot of positive aspects. Through this operation, we showed our strength to act in the quickest possible time on any information," he told The Daily Star yesterday.

"After getting the information, we did not delay for verification as we had to respond immediately. It is a message for those involved in crimes that we can rush anywhere and conduct massive operations in the shortest possible time."

On failure to arrest any JMB leaders despite 'reliable information' and maintaining strict secrecy, the Rab DG however said the law enforcers are to act on information from various sources and many of the operations do not yield expected results.

He however said there is no possibility of prior leak of information, saying the officers in commanding-level learnt about the operation just before it started.

On wrapping up the operation at 1:30am despite announcement of continuing it until 6:00am yesterday, he said the forces completed their task by that time.

Former IGP Ashraful Huda also said the operation was conducted as the authorities did not think it would wise to waste time for crosschecking the information. "Maybe it was necessary."

Intelligence reports identified Rashid Rice Mill in Poradaho as a JMB den and the law enforcers started the operation there. They did not find the owner of the mill, Abdur Rashid, president of BNP Poradaho Union Parishad unit, there, our Kushtia correspondent adds.

Rashid was confined and interrogated until the operation ended as he went to meet the leader of the joint force.

Police failed to squeeze any information out of Rashid and released him around 1:30:am. The police however said he is not involved with any banned Islamist outfit.

The rice mill is located on 100-acre land and many parts of it are covered with bushes. Two other agro-based farms are also situated there. Locals said anyone may hide in the bushy area.

The joint force also arrested five labourers at Aban Rice Mill owned by Siddikur Rahman, chairman of Ailchara UP, who claimed yesterday police released four of them.