At least two civilians were killed and 28 others injured on Saturday when Islamist terrorists hurled explosive device on people after army commandos stormed their hideout in Bangladesh’s north-eastern Sylhet following a nearly 30-hour security siege.
“Two civilians are killed and 28 people including two inspectors of bomb disposal unit sustained injuries in the blast,” Golam Kibria, commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police, was quoted as saying by The Daily Star.
The blast took place at 6:50 pm (local time) on a road, around 400 metres off the five-storey building, after the army commandos backed by police and SWAT launched ‘Operation Twilight’ to flush the militants out of the building.
Army and fire service ambulances rushed to the scene to take the injured onlookers to nearby facilities.
The attack came shortly after an army spokesman hinted that military commandos were set for their final assault on extremists who were holed up in the building.
On a tip-off, police had raided the building at 2:00 am on Friday and cordoned off the whole area after suspected militants detonated small bombs.
Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime chief Monirul Islam said they got information that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh chief Musa along with some other JMB terrorists are in Sylhet.
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.
Brigadier-General Fakhrul Ahsan said that they were not sure about the number of militants inside the building who so far exploded 12 bombs.
“It is the commander of the operation, who will decide how it will be conducted or when it could end,” Ahsan told reporters at the scene, responding to a question on when the ‘Operation Twilight’ could be wrapped up.
General Officer Commanding of Sylhet-based 17 Infantry Division Major General Anwarul Momen is leading the ‘Operation Twilight’ which was launched at 9 am on Saturday.
“Seventy eight residents of the building have been evacuated but the operation is underway as militants are still inside the building,” Ahsan said.
He said that contrary to what was thought that the Islamists were staying only on the ground floor, it now appeared they took position in different parts of the building
planting Improvised Explosive Devices as traps.
TV channels were barred from live broadcast of the operation but their footages showed commandos backed by the armoured personnel carriers taking positions around the building.
Witnesses and residents in the neighbourhood said they saw smoke billowing out from parts of the building and heard intermittent explosions and gunshots from inside the building.
Police has asked people in the neighbourhood to keep safe distance from the building and stay indoors.
Earlier reports said at least two suspected militants, including a female, were inside the Atia Villa’s ground floor but a police officer later feared a “whole lot of them” could also be there, suspecting them as operatives of Neo-JMB.
Police used megaphones to ask the couple, who were living in the building for the last three months as tenants, to surrender, but they refused to give up.
The terrorists shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is the greatest) and told police ‘send your SWAT team’.
“Since last evening, they (militants) have stopped responding,” an eyewitness said.
Military police put barricade on adjacent thoroughfares including a regional highway.
Authorities overnight cut off the gas and power lines of the building. Police asked people in the neighbourhood to keep safe distance from the hideout and advise to stay indoors.
The Operation Twilight was launched after a suicide bomber on Friday night blew himself up near the international airport in Dhaka, an attack claimed by Islamic State terrorist group, a week after an identical attack on a RAB camp.
Police tracked down the Sylhet hideout less than a week after they busted two militant dens on the outskirts of the south-eastern port city of Chittagong when four extremists
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.