Big breakthrough in Bangla killings

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On a day Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj promised to stand by Bangladesh’s beleaguered but determined government, the Dhaka police made a major breakthrough in the recent spate of killings rocking the country.

Dhaka Police claimed that they had killed in a ‘shootout’ a radical activist of the Ansarullah Bangla Team who was not only involved in many of the recent killings but had ‘full knowledge’ of most of them.

‘Sharif’, one of the six militants with rewards on their heads for involvement in the recent killings, was killed early on Sunday in an ‘encounter’.

According to police detectives, he was one of those involved in the murder of writer-blogger Avijit Roy during the Ekushe Book Fair last year.

Writer-blogger Avijit Roy killed during the Ekushe Book Fair last year

Writer-blogger Avijit Roy killed during the Ekushe Book Fair last year

Police said Sharif had been using several aliases — Sakib, Saleh, Arif and Hadi – to evade the police, which had announced a Tk 500,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

“He had knowledge of all the murders of bloggers, writers and online activists even as he participated in the murder of Avijit Roy,” Senior Detective Branch officer Mashrukur Rahman Khaled told journalists in Dhaka.

“He was outside the Suddhaswar office when publisher Tutul was attacked and was also responsible for coordinating the attacks on online activists Oyasiqur Rahman Babu and Niladri Chatterjee Niloy,” DC, Dhaka police Khaled said.

In the one and half year since Avijit Roy’s murder, targeted attacks by suspected Islamist militants have left more than 40 killed in Dhaka, including online activists, a publisher and a gay rights activist and two foreigners.

It all started in February 2013, a few days after the Shahbagh movement started, when blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed near his home in Dhaka.

Police say Sharif, who was shot dead on Sunday, was a ‘vital member’ of banned group Ansarullah Bangla Team’s (ABT) ‘operations wing,’ that was responsible for planning and coordinating attacks on their targets.

many have wondered at the failure of the Bangladesh security agencies to crack these murder cases

“A spiritual leader heads the group, who maintains liaison with stakeholders at home and abroad.

“The next tier is an operational chief, who plans and coordinates all the attacks,” detective officer Khaled told

He said Sharif used to execute instructions by the ABT operations chief.

“He used to rent places in different parts of the capital to give training on firearms and weapons. He also used to coordinate the attack and usually would be somewhere near the spot of the killings,” added the senior police officer.

He said that they came to know of another ‘vital ABT operative’, who goes by the name Selim.

“He is the one who collected details of their targets and ordered the killings. He also holds motivational training sessions for the assailants. Before a murder, Sharif and Selim used to meet their operational chief in rented facilities in Dhaka,” said the police deputy commissioner.

He added that in their meetings with the ABT operations chief, Sharif and Selim would explain how the killing of an individual would serve their purpose.

“After that they would step up vigilance on their targets. They would scout the targets workplace and home for at least seven days.”

Police arrests militant Sharif Photo credit

Police arrests militant Sharif            Photo credit

Police said Sharif, who hailed from the southern region of Khulna, studied English literature at a private university and had also worked for an NGO.

On May 19, police announced a reward of Tk 1.8 million for information leading to arrests of six militants.

Sharif is the second of them, who police claims to tracked down.

On Jun 15, police arrested the first of the six— Suman Hossain Patwary alias Shihab alias Shakib alias Saiful — from an area near the Dhaka airport.

He is now being questioned in custody over the attack on publishing house ‘Suddhaswar’ owner Ahmedur Rashid Tutul.

Detective Branch officer Khaled said that they conducted overnight raids at different parts in the capital based on information gathered from Patwary about Sharif.

“During a raid in Khilgaon, three men on a motorcycle opened fire forcing the police to retaliate. Sharif was hit and fell off while the others fled.” he said.

He was taken to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital where the doctors declared him dead.

Sharif, who was shot dead on Sunday, was a ‘vital member’ of banned group Ansarullah Bangla Team’s (ABT) operations wing

“Selim was not on that motorcycle. According to our information, he is a tall and stout man. The description does not fit with the two others who were on the motorcycle,” said Khaled, a deputy commissioner with the Detective Branch in Dhaka.

For a long time, many have wondered at the failure of the Bangladesh security agencies to crack these murder cases.

The reality is they had very little intelligence penetration in the new Islamist radical groups like ABT, even as they had managed to decimate older groups like HuJI.

The JMB had survived primarily by moving its cadres and leaders to safer locations in Indian states like Assam and West Bengal, where local parties were willing to shelter them.

But after a year of failures, the Bangladesh agencies are finally managing to break into these new radical groups.

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