Bangladesh Police is finally going to get a fully-fledged unit with jurisdiction to combat militancy and terrorism anywhere in the country.
“We've already forwarded the proposal [for the special unit] to the finance ministry [for approval]. We hope the unit will be formed within the next couple of months,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told The Daily Star recently.
Currently, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) is the only specialised counterterrorism unit of the police.
The unit has to step in to launch anti-militancy raids in areas even outside its jurisdiction. For that, it needs special permission from the police headquarters.
Talking to The Daily Star, CTTC officials said they face issues while investigating militancy-related crimes outside the DMP areas.
For example, they said, they have to work with local law enforcement agencies that are yet to develop the expertise to handle such crimes outside the capital.
The CTTC unit also combats cyber crimes, terror financing and mobile banking related crimes.
Counterterrorism officials said the new unit -- to be named “Police Anti-Terrorism Unit” -- would enhance their capacity manifold in the fight against militancy.
They believe the unit would make their jobs easier as it would have the jurisdiction and manpower to look into militancy anywhere in the country.
Headed by an additional inspector general, the unit would initially have 592 members, said Mohammad Moniruzzaman, assistant inspector general (confidential) of the police headquarters.
Headquartered in Dhaka, the unit would also have a deputy inspector general (DIG), an additional DIG and eight superintendents of police, he said.
Members from Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT), bomb disposal unit, and the dog squad would be included in the unit. It would also have a research wing, which will continuously conduct studies and researches on militancy and terrorism, sources said.
Trained commandos from the rapid response teams in metropolitan and range police units would also join it, added the sources.
As many as 40 police officials -- 25 from Armed Police Battalion (APBn) and 15 from Chittagong Metropolitan Police (CMP) -- completed a commando training from the National Security Guard Centre in India in December last year.
They are now providing commando training to others at APBn Specialised Training Centre in Khagrachhari.
Additional DIG (training and sports) of police headquarters KH Mahid Uddin said the first batch completed commando training at Khagrachhari on April 6 and the process to train another batch was underway.
He said the commandos would join the new unit and would be quite useful in anti-militancy drives.
Police have long been demanding the formation of a fully-fledged counterterrorism unit specialised in battling militancy across the country.
The police headquarters in 2011 had sent a proposal to the home ministry for the formation of “Police Bureau of Counter-Terrorism”. The proposal pitched for setting up bureau offices in all divisional headquarters after appointing the required manpower.
The bureau, however, was never formed amid objections from other law enforcement agencies. The agencies thought they were enough to handle the matter, said sources in the police headquarters.
In the following years, the country witnessed a sharp rise in militant activities, including attacks on bloggers, publishers, different Muslim sects, foreigners, and people of other religions.
In the face of growing demand for a special counterterrorism police unit, the government in February last year formed the CTTC so that police members could concentrate fully on the fight against militancy and deal with the menace effectively.
Around the same time, the police headquarters forwarded the proposal for the “Police Anti-Terrorism Unit” to the home ministry in a bid to step up the fight.
IMPROVED VERSION OF CTTC?
Talking to The Daily Star, several police high officials said the new police unit would get most of its manpower and expertise from the CTTC unit, which has 407 members.
“The new unit would be the new form of the CTTC unit with a nationwide jurisdiction,” Monirul Islam, chief of CTTC unit, told this correspondent.
Asked about the fate of the DMP's CTTC unit, a top official at the police headquarters said no decision had been taken about it yet. But there would definitely be a separate unit for the DMP areas, he added.
The official said he was not sure what would happen to the unit in future. “The decision will depend on time.”
During a meeting with police high ups at the police headquarters on March 27, Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque said it seemed the militant activities in recent years were a “rehearsal of bigger subversive activities”.
He instructed all police units to increase intelligence gathering, vigilance and monitoring to prevent militants from setting up dens.
Top officials of the police and the Rapid Action Battalion, who attended the meeting, agreed that formation of a national counterterrorism unit was a “demand of time” to combat militancy effectively.
Last month, police busted five hideouts of “Neo JMB” -- two in Chittagong, one in Sylhet and two in Moulvibazar. A total of 19 people, including five children and five women, were killed. According to police, 16 of them were killed in suicide attacks.
“Neo JMB”, an offshoot of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, was behind last year's Gulshan café attack, in which 22 people, including two police officials and 17 foreign nationals, were killed, said police.
Since the attack, around 57 Neo JMB “operatives” were killed in different anti-militancy drives.