Yesterday morning's ambush on a prison van in Trishal to free three JMB militants was planned at least 15 days ago, Mohammad Rakib Hasan Russel, one of the trio, told police following his arrest.
A gang of 10 to 15 hit men -- old and new members of the banned outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) -- took part in the attack with firearms and crude bombs, according to police sources.
Rakib alias Hafez Mahmud, a member of JMB Majlish-e-Shura, was arrested in Tangail five hours later. Two other militants -- Salahuddin alias Salehin and Zahidul Islam alias “Boma” Mizan -- managed to run away.
Police also caught Zakaria Islam, who was driving a microbus carrying some of the attackers after the hit-and-run ambush.
A senior JMB member, Zakaria was one of the masterminds behind the attack, police sources say. Hailing from Jinarpur under Gomostapur upazila of Chapainawabganj, he was arrested in 2005 for his involvement with militant activities.
“He [Zakaria] was jailed in 2006 and got released last year after serving his term,” Firoz Ahmed, officer-in-charge of Gomostapur Police Station, told The Daily Star last night.
During interrogation, Zakaria said they bought two microbuses at Tk 21 lakh for the operation. A private car and a motorcycle were also used.
He also told law enforcers that he got money from one Faruque Hossain who also participated in it.
“In 2007, Zakaria acquainted with Faruque in Kashimpur prison. Faruque was jailed in an explosive case. They both were released from the jail last year,” a cop who interrogated Zakaria told The Daily Star last night.
Faruque used to send money to a bank account of Zakaria. All those who took part in the operation were carrying a huge amount of money.
“In implementing such an attack, an outfit must have three things -- money, weapons and transport. The attackers had it all,” said an official of National Security Intelligence (NSI).
“It didn't happen all of a sudden. They tracked police van carrying the militants and assessed police strength, the situation on the highway and made a final plan.”
The attack has called into question the government's claim that the country's militant organisations lost organisational strength following years of crackdowns.
Security analyst Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan said there is no room for complacency though militants are being netted in regular drives.
After the execution of top leaders of JMB, not a single militant on death row was hanged, he said. “Their followers regrouped, gained strength and acted in a clinical manner.”
Director General of Rapid Action Battalion Mokhlesur Rahman said there are some militants in the country but their position is not so strong.
“We need to see against whom they carried out the operation. The police transporting the JMB men perhaps lacked strength to resist the attackers. The militants' aides took the chance,” he added.