The two Sitakunda dens discovered in the last two days were part of a massive bomb-making operation, police believe.
A 20-hour siege of one of the dens ended on Thursday morning in the town of Sitakunda with SWAT teams storming the building Chhayaneer in Chowdhurypara area, College Road. At the end of the operation, four militants and a child were found dead.
As of the filing of this report, the Bomb Disposal Unit of Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) was working to dispose of the live grenades found there. Around 5pm, one of the bombs went off and engulfed the first floor of the two-storey building. Fire Service was called in to put out the blaze.
“A massive amount of grenades and bombs are lying on the floors inside the flat,” Chittagong Range Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Md Shafiqul Islam said in the afternoon.
On Tuesday noon police busted another New JMB den in the town’s Amirabad area, only a kilometre from Chhayaneer. Police arrested two militants, a man and a woman claiming to be a couple, from a house called “Shadhon Kutir” in the neighbourhood of Namarbazar. A three-month-old baby girl was with them.
Their flat was filled with bomb making materials, live grenades, a pistol, 12 rounds of bullets and a suicide vest.
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Police counter-terrorism unit’s ADC Sanowar Hossain told journalists in the evening that each of the bombs found in Chhayaneer were strong enough to cause massive damage within a 50 yard radius.
CMP Bomb Disposal Unit sources said the house may have been used as the warehouse for the militant group’s grenades.
Seeking anonymity, a Bomb Disposal unit official said: “There is a lot of ready made grenades inside the flat. All are very powerful.”
The official said in Shahdon Kutir, the other den, the unit found a large quantity of bomb making circuits.
“We believe that the first den was a bomb manufacturing cell and this one was being used as a bomb warehouse,” the official said.
On March 8, Counter-Terrorism unit busted another JMB hideout in Chittagong’s Mirsharai upazila, about 20km from Sitakunda. There, police found 29 live handmade grenades, explosive gels and other bomb making materials.
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As it happened
The stand-off at Chhayaneer began around 3:30pm Wednesday. It soon became apparent that three families had become trapped inside.
During the evening, the militants threw a greanade and fired several shots at the police.
Around 6pm that day, a SWAT team from Chittagong was dispatched. Another SWAT team from Dhaka arrived at the site at 12:47am on Thursday.
At 6am on Thursday, the SWAT teams, Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit (CTTC) officials and Chittagong district police jointly launched the drive, code-named “Operation Assault 16.”
DIG Md Shafiqul Islam told the press: “SWAT teams entered the building from second floor of the adjacent house.
“Seeing them, two male militants ran up to the second floor and tried to detonate their suicide vests shouting “Allahu Akbar.””
The SWAT team fired at them and killed one. The other detonated his vest, rocking the whole area.
“The bodies of those two militants were disintegrated,” the official said.
Two SWAT members were injured in this explosion and they were sent to the hospital around 6:44am.
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A total of three policemen and one Fire Service man were injured during the operation. Four militants, three male and one female, were found dead at the end of the raid. Later in the evening, police found the body of a six or seven month old child under the woman’s body.
At 9:20am, the families trapped in the building were brought out. The operation ended around 11am on Thursday. The militants have not yet been identified.
“The female militant could not detonate her vest. She was shot dead before doing so. One of the male militants detonated their vests,” said a CTTC official.
Owner of Chhayaneer, Rehana Beghum, told the Dhaka Tribune that a man in his mid-20s had rented the flat in late January identifying himself as a rubber trader.
Rehana and her younger son Nasiruddin were also trapped in the building with the rest of their tenants.
All of the hostages are being kept at the Sitakunda Police Station.
Rehana could not recall what name the militants had given her.
“I rented out a flat on the ground floor for Tk6,000 per month. The man was staying with his 35-year-old brother-in law and his 19-year-old wife. The couple also had a six-to-seven-month-old baby,” she said.
“Sometimes the two men used to disappear for two or three days,” she said.
Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Haque at a programme in Dhaka on Thursday said: “The militants are trying to regroup and make their presence known.
“Police have recovered some documents from arrested militants which show that they are trying to regroup,” he said.
Police are introducing check-posts at different points across the country, the IGP said.