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Operation Twilight: Chief of neo-JMB killed in Sylhet, claims police

By Anisur Rahman
March 28, 2017 19:02 IST

The chief of the terror group blamed for Bangladesh's worst terror attack at a Dhaka cafe was among the four Islamist militants killed in one of the country's longest anti-terror operations in Sylhet, police said on Tuesday.

"Our intelligence suggest one of the four is top neo-JMB (neo-Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh) leader Musa," Police's Assistant Inspector General M Moniruzzaman said.

He, however, said forensic investigation was ordered to further confirm his identity as his face was mutilated in the fierce encounter.

Officials earlier identified the man only as Musa, saying he took the charge of the outfit as a massive anti-militancy operations killed several top neo-JMB leaders after the July 1 attack on Holey Artisan cafe.

The July 1 attack on Gulshan's Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka's posh diplomatic area killed 23 people, including an Indian girl.

Musa was among four Islamist terrorists killed during 'Operation Twilight', one of the country's longest anti-terror operations launched after a suicide bomber on Friday night blew himself up at the international airport in Dhaka in an attack claimed by the Islamic State. It came a week after an identical attack on a Rapid Action Battalion camp in Dhaka.

The four militants, including a woman, were holed up in a building that saw powerful blasts claimed by the Islamic State that killed six people in northeastern Sylhet city.

Bangladesh's army on Tuesday cleared the booby-trapped militant den in Sylhet and carried out controlled explosions of bombs in the building.

Several powerful blasts rocked the area as army's bomb disposal experts engaged in defusing the explosives planted at different corners of the building by the militants before their deaths.

"The army's explosive experts are working inside to defuse the devices apparently through controlled explosions," a source said.

An army spokesman said their assaults inside the militant hideout killed all Islamists but the 'Operation Twilight' is still underway secure the site.

"They (troops) are using drones to get a clearer picture before stepping inside different corners of the building to evade booby traps," an official said.

Sylhet-based 17 Infantry Division's Major General Anwarul Momen is leading the operation, assisted by police's SWAT and counter-terrorism units.

Army's Brigadier General Fakhrul Ahsan told the media briefing powerful "improvised explosive devices" laid by "much trained militants" at its different corners exposed the building to vulnerability requiring the military to exhaust a process ahead of wrapping up the operation.

"The militants had kept a bucket filled with explosives at the collapsible gate at entrance of the building. When we detonated them from distance, the collapsible gate was blown out so vigorously, walls of another building several yards away were severely damaged," Ahsan said.

He earlier also described the militants as "well trained" referring to an example when they hurled back a live grenade thrown by the commandos as the assault was underway.

Authorities called out commandos on Saturday morning, two days after a security siege to the building.

On Saturday evening, two powerful bombs ripped through a crowd near the building, killing six people, two being police officers and injuring about 50, including two army officers.

RAB Intelligence Wing chief Lt Col Abul Kalam was seriously wounded in blasts and flown to Dhaka for treatment. He was later flown to Singapore.

The attacks were carried out by the extremists from outside who were mixed up with onlookers, police said.

Hours later the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its propaganda news agency 'Amaq'.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, however, rejected the IS claim, saying that there was no presence of any foreign terrorist group in the country.

The encounter continued into Sunday, when army commandos shot dead two militants at the building.

The commandos located the militants wearing suicide vests on the ground floor of the building and shot them dead.

The militants were equipped with small arms, explosives and grenades and laid out booby traps at different corners of the building, slowing down the military operation.

The commandos earlier evacuated 78 residents, including children from the building.

A militant couple lived for the past three months as tenants.

Residents who lived in the house as tenants said they were virtually taken to hostage with militants warning them of bombs implanted on their way out while the commandos brought them out from the top of the building making their way there from the rooftop of an adjacent structure.

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.

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Anisur Rahman
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