DHAKA • Bangladeshi police have arrested more than 3,000 people in a sweeping nationwide crackdown following a spate of gruesome murders, they said yesterday, as the prime minister vowed to catch "each and every killer".
Those detained include 37 suspected Islamist militants and hundreds of potential criminals who had warrants out against them previously, as well as several hundred ordinary arrests, police said.
Bangladesh is reeling from a wave of brutal killings that have spiked in recent weeks, with religious minorities, secular thinkers and liberal activists the chief targets.
"We have arrested 3,155 people... as part of the special drive over the last 24 hours," said Deputy Police Inspector-General A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman. "The militants included 27 members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB)."
JMB is one of the main domestic militant outfits blamed by the government, which rejects claims from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a South Asian branch of Al-Qaeda that they are behind the killings.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a meeting of her ruling Awami League party yesterday that the police would stamp out the violence.
"It may take time, but God willing, we will be able to bring them under control. Where will the criminals hide? Each and every killer will be brought to book as we did after (last year's) mayhem," she said, referring to a deadly transport blockade last year organised by opposition parties.
But Bangladeshi opposition parties immediately accused the police of using the crackdown to suppress political dissent. "Hundreds of opposition activists have been arrested in the police drive," said Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. "In the name of the crackdown against Islamist militants, many ordinary and innocent people are being detained."
Ms Hasina has accused the BNP and the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, of orchestrating the attacks after they failed to topple the government in last year's transport blockade.
Police detained some 350 people in Chittagong, the nation's second- largest city, and its surrounding areas. They include one suspect in the murder of Ms Mahmuda Khanam Mitu, the wife of a top anti-terror police officer. She was fatally stabbed and shot last weekend. Her husband had led high-profile operations against JMB in Chittagong and her killing prompted the police to vow to catch her killers.
In recent days, an elderly Hindu priest was found nearly decapitated in a rice field, while a Christian grocer was hacked to death near a church, with ISIS claiming responsibility for the killings. A Hindu monastery worker was found hacked to death last Friday in the north-western district of Pabna.
But police have targeted domestic militant outfits, specifically JMB, with five members of the group shot dead in gunfights this week.