Five said to be plotting New Year attacks arrested

DHAKA • Police in Bangladesh have arrested five suspected militants believed to be plotting attacks on New Year celebrations, a counter-terrorism police chief said yesterday.

The five are believed to belong to a faction of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which was blamed for an attack on a cafe in Dhaka in July which killed 22 people, most of them foreigners.

"They planned to attack on New Year's Eve," Mr Monirul Islam, head of the counter-terrorism police unit, told a news conference.

He declined to elaborate when asked about the militants' target and how they planned to attack but said police had seized 60kg of explosives when the five were detained in overnight raids.

The five were paraded before the media but did not speak.

The authorities have already banned all outdoor gatherings in Dhaka from dusk on Dec 31 to dawn on Jan 1 on security grounds.

JMB has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has claimed responsibility for organising the cafe attack in Dhaka's diplomatic quarter.

Police have killed more than 40 suspected militants in raids since the July 1 cafe attack, including the man that the authorities said was the mastermind, Bangladesh-born Canadian citizen Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury.

The suspected militant deaths include two JMB-linked extremists who were killed on Christmas Eve after Bangladesh police raided a hideout in the capital.

Security forces, acting on a tip, besieged a flat in a Dhaka neighbourhood for more than 12 hours as officers exchanged gunfire with the militants, police said.

A child was injured when one of the militants, a woman who was holding the child, detonated a vest she was wearing that was rigged with explosives. Dhaka police chief Asaduzzaman Mia said the female militant was attempting to target the security forces.

"The woman came forward and tried to come near police... she conducted suicide blast," Mr Mia told reporters after the raid.

Militant attacks have increased in mostly Muslim Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, over the past few years with several prominent liberal writers, rights activists and members of religious minorities killed.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government blames local militant groups such as JMB for the carnage, rejecting claims by ISIS and Al-Qaeda.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2016, with the headline 'Five said to be plotting New Year attacks arrested'. Print Edition | Subscribe