In a well-orchestrated plan, an armed gang ambushed a prison van and snatched away three convicted JMB militants -- two of them on death row -- in Trishal upazila of Mymensingh yesterday.
Police, however, captured one of the trio from Shakhipur of Tangail while he was fleeing on a three-wheeler, about five hours after the incident.
A police constable was killed as the gang of 10-15, all masked, opened fire and hurled crude bombs at the prison van at Signboard point of Aminabari area around 10:00am.
The dead, Atiqul Islam, was from Gazipur Police Station.
The attack on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway took place when the van carrying the three was going to Mymensingh to produce them before a court in a sedition case.
The convicts of the banned Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) are Rakib Hasan Russell alias Hafez Mahmud, Salauddin Ahmed alias Salehin and Zahidul Islam alias "Boma" Mizan. Rakib and Salauddin were sentenced to death and "Boma" Mizan to 37 years in prison in different cases.
Rakib, who was commander of the militant outfit in Khulna division, was nabbed around 3:00pm. Following his escape from the prison van, he had shaved his long beard to avoid arrest, but police identified him from the marks of fetters on his hands and legs.
Law enforcement agencies continued their hunt for the two others in Mymensingh and Tangail.
Police said they had picked up Rakib from Gazipur's high security prison, Salahuddin from Kashimpur-1 and "Boma" Mizan from Kashimpur-2 jails and started for Mymensingh around 7:15am.
As the van reached Signboard point, a truck waylaid it. As planned, a black Toyota Voxy microbus with armed criminals aboard was already following the prison van from Gazipur, while other members of the gang were waiting at Signboard point in a white microbus.
With the prison van blocked from both sides, the gang got down and started shooting and hurling crude bombs.
The attackers then snatched the key from the law enforcers, opened the door of the van, cut the fetters with rod cutters and took away the JMB men, said Firoz Talukder, officer-in-charge of Trishal Police Station.
They took only five minutes to finish the operation and fled away in two groups, before people from nearby villages and markets rushed there. The white microbus headed for Mymensingh and the black one made a U-turn and drove towards Shakhipur via Bhaluka, police said.
Constable Atiqul Islam, who was guarding the rear gate of the prison van, was hit by multiple bullets and bombs. He died on the spot.
Two other cops -- Subedar Habib and Constable Sohel Rana -- were wounded and sent to Mymensingh Medical College Hospital.
Law enforcers recovered one live and two used bullets of 7.65 pistol from the spot. They also found the two Chinese guns that the attackers snatched from the police.
The gang chose the Signboard point as there is no house or other establishment nearby.
Before the ambush, other members of the gang took position at different points from Gazipur to Mymensingh to monitor the situation. They maintained constant contacts to update each other of any developments, said police.
On information, police put up a barricade near Shakhipur Police Station. Around 11:00am, as a speedy black microbus (Dhaka Metro Cha-11-6048) was coming towards the barricade, police signaled it to stop but it drove away.
However, the microbus, broke down about a kilometre away and hit a CNG-run auto-rickshaw.
Microbus driver Zakaria Hossain and others then got down and started running away through the village. Smelling a rat, locals caught Zakaria, 29, and handed him over to the police.
An active member of JMB, he was carrying a pistol, five bullets and 10 bombs, Tangail Additional Superintendent of Police Hasibul Alam told The Daily Star.
Zakaria, who hails from Gomostyapur of Chapainawabganj, was one of the masterminds behind the ambush, he said, adding that the JMB man even offered the locals TK 12,000, requesting them not to hand him over to the police.
During interrogation, Rakib admitted to hatching the ambush plan 15 days ago and that two microbuses were bought to execute the plan, said Hasibul Alam.
Another microbus also took part in the operation, police quoted Rakib as saying.
Interestingly, only four policemen were entrusted with carrying such dangerous militants.
Asked if it was enough, Dhaka Range DIG Mahfuzul Haq Nuruzzaman told the media that it was "really not enough".
Meanwhile, Gazipur Reserve Police Inspector Saidur Rahman and Subedar Abdul Kader were suspended for negligence of duty, said Gazipur Superintendent of police Abdul Baten. But he did not clarify what their duties were.
Security was beefed up at all prisons following the incident.
“We also put on alert all the law enforcement agencies throughout the country and also on the borders and directed them to capture the two snatched JMB operatives,” said State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan.
Meanwhile, police detained Zakaria's wife Swapna Begum and recovered Jihadi books and a list of JMB men from her house at Gazipura in Tongi, said Faruk Hossain, senior assistant superintendent of police of Tongi.
In another development around 10:30pm, a white microbus (Dhaka Metro-Cha 132688) believed to have taken part in the attack and driven away with Salahuddin and "Boma" Mizan was found abandoned near the girls' dormitory of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University in Trishal.
The fetters and cutter machines were also found in the vehicle, said the officer-in-charge of Trishal Police Station.
A three-member probe body headed by DIG of CID Saiful Alam was formed to investigate the incident. The committee will submit its report in three work days.
Yesterday's was the first JMB attack in several years, following a series of bomb blasts by the outfit during 2004-2005.
Militancy in the country saw a rise during the past BNP-Jamaat rule. But the outfit seemed inactive, following the execution of seven JMB kingpins, including Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai in 2007, and the arrests of several hundred of its leaders and operatives.