Operation ‘Twilight’: 2 more militants dead in Sylhet hideout
12:00 AM, March 28, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:48 PM, March 28, 2017

Army-led Operation in Sylhet: Day 4

2 more militants dead in hideout

Bodies of 2 out of 4 militants with suicide vests still in Atia Mahal; raid nears end after 4 days

Two more militants were killed in the army-led operation at Atia Mahal in Sylhet city with the four-day siege to the terrorist hideout drawing to an end yesterday.

However, it could take more time to wrap up the raid, launched on Saturday morning, for defusing bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and collecting evidence, say army and police officials.

Earlier on Sunday, two militants were killed during the commando operation.

Briefing reporters in Sylhet around 7:45pm yesterday, Military Intelligence Director Brig Gen Fakhrul Ahsan said, “Today, we found four bodies on Atia Mahal's ground floor. Of the four bodies, we recovered two and handed over those to police.”

It wasn't yet possible to recover the other two bodies as suicide vests were wrapped around those. “We are now making a plan on how to recover the bodies,” he said.

The identity of the four militants was yet to be known.

With a cache of explosives, terrorists had been holing up at a flat on the ground floor of the five-storey building since early Friday.

Army commandos launched the operation codenamed “Operation Twilight” on Saturday morning and confirmed the death of two male militants at the den on Sunday.

Fakhrul said that of the two bodies recovered yesterday, one is of a man and the other of a woman.

In reply to a query, he said it was tough to say precisely when they were killed.

Police sources said they had information that top “Neo JMB” leader Mainul Islam Musa and a woman named Marzina from Bandarban had holed up there with two others.

But it wasn't clear whether the two were among the dead.

“We saw the two bodies [recovered by army personnel]. Their faces are partially burnt. We have collected fingerprints and DNA samples from the bodies to verify their identification,” said a top police official, seeking anonymity.  

The standoff with the militants began around 1:30am on Friday when police cordoned off the building in the city's Shibbari area barely a week after busting a militant den in Chittagong.

The army took over the charge of the operation from police on Saturday morning, and evacuated 78 residents from the building.

During the raid that evening, two powerful bombs went off at two places near the hideout, killing two police officials and four civilians. At least 40 others, including law enforcers and journalists, were injured.

Global terror group Islamic State claimed credit for the twin bomb attacks, US-based SITE Intelligence reported, citing the militant outfit's Amaq news agency.

As on the previous two days, gunshots rang out yesterday morning and continued to be heard till 8:00am with a pause.

Two huge explosions took place around 10:30am. About an hour later, a burst of gunfire was heard again, followed by another blast around 12:00pm.

Shooting started again around 12:45pm and continued for at least 15 minutes. A fire broke out at the building following an explosion around 3:15pm.

From a distance, The Daily Star correspondent saw a plume of smoke rising from the building. Law enforcers didn't allow journalists to go near the building for security reasons.

Later, fire-fighters went to the spot and doused the flame.

Police sources said army Para Commandos entered the flat on the ground floor, breaking two of its doors.

FAKHRUL'S BRIEFING

At the briefing, the army official said they found the body of one of the militants lying in a room with four to five IED devices around the body.

A part of the building might collapse if the explosives stored in the building explode. “We are moving cautiously as the whole building is risky,” he said.

Giving an idea of how powerful the explosives are, Fakhrul said the militants had kept a bucket containing explosives in front of a collapsible gate of the building. When the explosives went off, the entire building jolted and its collapsible gate was blown off to an adjacent building. There might be more explosives in the building.

Asked what types of weapons the militants had used, he said the terrorists fired small arms, charged grenades and exploded IEDs.

The whole building had been inspected “more or less”. “If necessary, we will inspect it again,” he said, adding that they think nobody alive was inside the building.

According to intelligence sources, four militants -- three men and a woman -- were inside the building. The commandos also found the same, Fakhrul pointed out.

“The four were well trained. It's a great success for us, for the army to have tracked down and killed them [the militants].”

The army official said the situation was always under their control. “None could sneak out of the place.”

“Commandos conducted the drive risking their lives. We are proud of them. You also can feel proud of them ...”

About the fire at the building, Fakhrul said it could have been caused by explosions of suicide vests, shooting, detonation of grenades or tear gas canisters.

CASE FILED

Police on Sunday night filed a case with Moglabazar Police Station against some unknown persons over Saturday's twin blasts near the militant den.

In the case statement, Sub-inspector Shiplu Chowdhury, plaintiff of the case, said one or more militants or terrorists carried out two explosions in Shibbari area during the operation.

He also mentioned the names of the dead and some of the injured.

Yesterday, police handed over the bodies of Shahidul Islam and Khadem Shah -- two of the six killed in the blasts -- to their families around 2:00pm after collecting their fingerprints and samples of their clothes.

Though the bodies of the other four were given to their families on Sunday, police took a day to hand over the two bodies for gathering information on them.

Rokon Uddin, additional commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police, said they are checking the backgrounds of the two and why they went to the spot on that day.

Shahidul's brother Saiful Islam told The Daily Star that his brother, proprietor of Prime Lightings, started a decoration and catering business in Sylhet in 2003, and that he had never been involved in any criminal activities.

Talking to reporters about Saturday's blasts, Rokon Uddin said the attackers didn't throw the bombs, rather they left abandoned a bag containing two bombs. 

Police were yet to find out how the bombs went off, as it was dark at that time and a large number of curious onlookers had gathered there, he said.

Replying to a query, the police official said they seized five motorbikes from the spot and identified the owners of all but one.

“We asked the BRTA to give us information on the other motorbike. We will get it soon.”

In response to another question, he claimed the attackers reached the spot not by breaching police barricade, rather by mingling with onlookers.

Asked whether lax surveillance allowed the militants to transport and store explosives at the hideout, the police official said there was no loophole in police surveillance.

“All the roads of the city are not under the coverage of CCTV cameras… They [the militants] didn't carry the elements at a time. They might have brought those to the den at different times, he said.

Rokon Uddin said they were looking into whether there was any other militant hideout in the city.

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