Three suspected militants, who had holed up in a flat near the Prime Minister's Office in the capital, were killed in a Rab raid early yesterday.
“They were operatives of the militant outfit JMB [Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh] and were planning to carry out attacks on key establishments in the capital,” Mufti Mahmud Khan, Legal and Media Wing director of Rab, told reporters at the scene in the city's West Nakhalpara.
“The militants got killed while exchanging fire with Rab personnel,” he said.
The three had been staying in a flat of a six-storey building, “Ruby Villa”, several hundred yards from the PMO.
Rab Director General Benazir Ahmed said the militants tried to blow up the flat by exploding a grenade on a gas burner.
But the Rab members cut off the building's gas connection to prevent them from doing so, according to Rab officials.
During the raid, the elite force rescued four tenants who were in the other two rooms of the flat on the fourth floor. Rab had raided the same building in 2013 and 2016, and arrested several people.
The dead -- aged between 25 and 27 -- were yet to be identified.
Quoting the flat's caretaker Rubel, Rab officials said one of the militants rented a room of the flat on December 28 for Tk 5,500 a month. He identified himself as Jahid, a worker at a ceramic factory in Tejgaon Industrial Area.
Rab suspects that he had faked his identity as it found copies of two different national ID cards with his photographs. In one ID, his name was mentioned as Jahid from Comilla and in the other as Sajib from Brahmanbaria.
Yesterday's raid was the first anti-militancy operation this year.
Since the July 1 Gulshan Café attack in 2016, law enforcers carried out at least 30 pre-emptive raids on militant dens where 80 militants were killed and many others arrested.
Yesterday's operation began around 2:00am with Rab members cordoning off the building. Getting no response from inside for about 30 minutes, they broke the collapsible gate of the main entrance and entered the building, Mufti Mahmud said.
Around 3:30am, the militants, who were in one of the three rooms in the flat, opened the door of their room and threw a grenade at the Rab men.
They then opened fire on the Rab members, prompting the law enforcers to retaliate.
Two members of the elite force sustained minor injuries, he added.
The operation ended after a 30-minute gunfight between the militant suspects and the Rab personnel around 4:00am. But it took Rab around 11 hours to recover bombs and explosive materials, and collect evidence.
Two firearms, three suicide vests, three improvised explosive devices and some detonators were recovered from the hideout, said the elite force.
Rab picked up four persons, including the building's owner and Rubel, for quizzing.
Quoting Rubel, Mufti Mahmud said Jahid started staying in the flat on January 4 and the other two joined him four days later. They did not bring any furniture or household items.
Jahid used to go out every morning and return late at night. The other two stayed in their room most of the time, Mufti Mahmud said, quoting the other tenants of the flat.
There are two flats on each floor of the six-storey building, except for the ground floor which is used as a parking lot. The flats on the fourth and fifth floors have been rented out to bachelors and the rest to families.
Building's owner Shah Mohammad Sabbir Hossain, a steward of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, lives on the first floor.
His family members could not give any information on the suspects as Rubel looks after the flats on the fourth and fifth floors, said Rab officials.
Around 3:15pm, Rab allowed journalists to enter the room where the militant suspects had holed up.
This correspondent saw bloodstains on the floor. There was no furniture or bed in the room. A mat was kept folded in one corner of the room. Two pistols, a kitchen knife and a packet of keffiyeh (a type of scrarf) were lying on the floor. There were bullet marks on the walls, and one of the windows was broken.
Talking to this correspondent over the phone, Parvez Hossain, a tenant in one of the two flats on the fifth floor, said he woke up to the sound of a loud bang around 3:00am.
“I tried to get out of the flat. But I could not as it was locked from outside. After a while, firing started and continued for at least 30 minutes with several brief pauses,” said Parvez, a student of Tejgaon Polytechnic Institute.
He, however, could not say who had locked the door.
Parvez said he and several tenants of the flat then hid under a bed. He phoned his father Kamal Hossain in Gazipur who arrived at the scene around 7:00am.
Not only Kamal, anxious relatives of other tenants at the building rushed to the scene after hearing the news of the raid.
Fifty-five-year-old Farzana, who lives in a tin-shed house nearby, mistook the gunshots for sounds of firecrackers. But later, she spotted Rab personnel near her house and got panicked.
Like her, many residents in the area were gripped by fear during the raid.