Incident raises questions about police tactics after alleged extremists claim they are innocent
Five young Bangladeshis accused of being Islamist militants surrendered to authorities on Sunday, an official said, after a lengthy siege that prompted questions about heavy-handed police tactics.
Elite counter-terror troops surrounded a one-storey house in the central district of Narsingdi on Saturday afternoon after a tip-off that Islamist extremists were holed up there. The information came from militants arrested in April after a raid on an extremist hideout that left 10 people including a senior police officer dead, said Rapid Action Battalion spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan.
The five young men in Narsingdi had “surrendered peacefully, which was our main goal,” after a siege that lasted more than 20 hours, he told AFP. But the incident raised questions about police tactics after one of the five alleged Islamists took to Facebook to profess his innocence, urging authorities not to storm the building.
“Attention journalists and law enforcers, we are innocent. Please search us if you can find anything. We are locked from outside. Please rescue us,” Abuzafar Mia wrote on the social media website.
Suspected militants in Bangladesh—and sometimes their families—are often killed during police raids on so-called hideouts. An estimated 70 extremists have been killed by police since July when authorities launched a crackdown in the wake of a café attack that left 22 dead.
“There are serious doubts about these counter-terrorism operations and the official narratives of these raids,” said one rights activist, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Nur Khan Liton, another prominent activist, said the police version of events was always provided after raids but little questioning occurred beyond that. “Most of the alleged militants get killed in the raids. Those who are arrested are not made available to talk publicly,” he told AFP, adding it was not always clear whether those killed were actually extremists.
RAB commander Lieutenant Colonel Kamrul Hasan said the accused would be released from custody if proven innocent. “We’ve found some jihadi books and leaflets inside the residence. We’ll interrogate them and if they are actually innocent, we’ll definitely release them immediately,” Hasan told AFP.
Bangladesh has been reeling from a spate of attacks in recent years, with scores of foreigners, secular writers, atheist activists and religious minorities killed. The Islamic State group and Al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for a number of attacks but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has denied their involvement, blaming local outfits instead.