Three microbuses with tinted windows and no number plates entered the Cox’s Bazar Police Lines, escorted by four police vans on November 8.
Ayub Ali, a suspected firearms maker and notorious criminal of Maheshkhali, and 20 of his men were inside the vehicles, sources said.
Hundred more suspects in cases of arms dealings and robberies were moved into the police lines by yesterday, but they had not been arrested.
The reason? They would surrender before the home minister in a formal programme in Maheshkhali, off Cox’s Bazar coast, tomorrow.
Locals said the suspects, who are from Maheshkhali and Kutubdia, had been reigning supreme in Maheshkhali upazila for years. They had made murders, robberies, and abductions a common phenomenon in the upazila.
They were responsible for the island to get the nick name “island of illegal arms”.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, along with Cox’s Bazar-2 MP Ashek Ullah Rafique and Inspector General of Police Mohammad Javed Patwary would be present at the surrender ceremony on Kalarmarchhara Union Parishad ground around noon tomorrow.
Thousands of people are expected to join as the suspects are to surrender with a huge cache of illegal arms, ammunition, and arms-making equipment.
Police sources claimed that Ayub Ali, 45, of Huanok union, is the boss of a gang that has been active in the area for the last 14 years.
Ayub is wanted in over a dozen cases, including murder, abduction, robbery and illegal arms cases. He was accused in the Sub-Inspector Paresh Karbari murder case.
Rab and police conducted several drives last year to capture Ayub. Due to the mounting pressure of the drives, Ayub’s right hand with eight of his followers surrendered when 43 pirates gave themselves up in October last year.
Like Ayub, suspects Ziaur Rahman Zia of Zia Bahini, Jahangir Alam of Jahangir Bahini, Mohammad Ali of Mahmudullah Bahini, Sirajouddullah of Siraj Bahini, Mujibur Rahman Prakash of Mujib Bahini, and Kalu Prakash of Kalu Bahini, are expected to surrender tomorrow along with 15 to 20 members of each gang.
The Daily Star ran a report in March this year about the gangs who make guns in Maheshkhali.
At least six organised gangs had gun-making workshops on the island, sources in a law enforcement agency said.
There were no permanent structures for the workshops. Bamboo, reeds, grass, and leaves were used to build at least 30 workshops in forests, they said.
They claimed that the gangs were involved in extortion and land grabbing too.
Locals said the most notorious gang in Maheshkhali is Kodalia Bahini led by Jinnat Ali. The gang has been active since 2001 and has around 40 to 50 cadres.
This gang is not expected to surrender tomorrow.
Those who would surrender would “not receive any general amnesty”. They would have to face trials, police sources said, adding that the suspects would be given legal aid.
Last year, a journalist of a TV channel approached police and mediated the surrender of the 43 pirates who surrendered in October.
Inspired by the move and outcome, the government allowed the surrender of 102 yaba godfathers and dealers in Teknaf in February this year.
“This time, the arms manufacturers and top criminals of Maheshkhali, Kutubdia, Chakaria and Pekua neighbourhood, will surrender at the programme,” the journalist said, adding that they have contacted around 200 criminals, of them 150 might surrender.
According to sources in law enforcement agencies, half the robbers and pirates who surrendered last year are now on bail.
The surrender of the yaba godfathers this year brought little visible change to the drug trade in Cox’s Bazar.
Locals are unsure whether surrender of the arms makers and gangs would actually improve law and order.
Police Superintendent in Cox’s Bazar ABM Masud Hossain said, “Many of the arms manufacturers, pirates, and criminals wished to return to normal lives. Higher authorities were informed of the matter.
“The administration will help them if they surrender and shun the life in crime,” he added.