Firearms Smuggling: Syndicate eyeing polls, Rohingya camps
A transnational syndicate has been smuggling arms into Bangladesh from India and Myanmar for about four years. Its target group is criminals who would use arms in polls violence and Rohingya camps, say law enforcers.
Alongside the old smuggling routes, the syndicate started using some new ones. Law enforcers came to know about it in 2018.
At least three authorised arms dealers are leading the syndicate, and some people from ethnic minority communities are working as carriers. The ethnic minority people hold national identity cards of both Bangladesh and India, said the Arms Enforcement team of the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit.
The team claimed to have learnt this after interrogating four people who were arrested in the capital late last month.
Among the arrestees is an authorised arms dealer.
Ahamedul Islam, additional deputy commissioner (ADC) of CTTC unit, said the syndicate mainly used Shibganj of Chapainawabganj and Benapole of Jashore to smuggle arms from India previously.
As security was beefed up in those points, the syndicate changed routes and started smuggling arms through Borkol of Rangamati and Tamabil of Sylhet points, he told The Daily Star.
"Most of these arms were made in Bihar. The consignment is then sent to Tripura. We found that some of the arms were made in a factory in Myanmar and those were smuggled into Rangamati from Maungdaw of Myanmar," said the official.
However, Lt Col Foyezur Rahman, director (operation) of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), said they didn't have any specific information about the change in arms smuggling route.
"Syndicates have been using the same routes [used previously] for smuggling arms. But the BGB remains alert to smuggling of arms at all border points," he told The Daily Star.
Sources said most of these illegal arms were supplied to criminals and later used in violence over polls to local government bodies. At least 34 people have so far been killed in polls violence this year, according to media reports.
Meanwhile, the police headquarters launched a countrywide special drive on Monday night to recover illegal arms. It also opened an investigation into why the polls violence took place.
The drive will continue in 64 districts for seven days, but the period will be extended if needed, said sources.
On October 31, the CTTC arrested four people -- Md Hossain, an authorised arms trader in Chattogram; Lal Tan Pankhoa, headman of Saichal Pankhoa community in Rangamati; Ali Akbar and Adilur Rahman Sujan -- from the capital's Sayedabad in connection with smuggling arms.
The four are now behind bars.
Investigators said this was not the first time authorised arms dealers were found involved in illegal arms trade. Between 2018 and 2019, the Arms Enforcement team arrested around a dozen authorised arms dealers and recovered around 200 illegal arms.
In the smuggling syndicate, authoriesd arms dealer Hossain led a group. He had two other dealers along with him, the investigators added.
"We already have details about the two other authorised arms dealers. They are now under surveillance," said ADC Ahamedul.
Investigators said this time they found some ethnic minority group members involved in arms smuggling.
"We have found a number of people from Pankhoa, Khasia and Kuki communities involved in the syndicate. Most of these people hold both Indian and Bangladeshi national identity cards and they can move easily in both the countries," said a high official of the CTTC unit involved in the investigation.
"A carrier gets Tk 50,000 to Tk 1.5 lakh depending on the size of an arms consignment," said the official.
BUY, SALE OF ARMS LICENCE
As a technique of selling legal arms illegally to criminals, the authorised dealers used to buy old or expired licences of legal arms.
For example, dealers used to buy licences of arms whose users either have died or their family wants to surrender the arms or the user wants to migrate abroad.
"After buying those licences, the arms dealer inscribes the licence number on the barrel of the illegal arms ... . Thus they can easily dodge security checks and carry illegal arms from one place to another for delivery," said a high official of arms enforcement team.
SUPPLY TO ROHINGYA CAMPS
Apart from supplying smuggled arms to criminals, the syndicate also targets Rohingya camps, according to officials.
CTTC officials claimed to have learnt from the arrestees that several criminal groups have been buying illegal arms and bullets. These groups use the arms for extortion, narcotics trade and establishing supremacy locally.
"We have names of some residents of Rohingya camps. We are now trying to get more details," said ADC Ahamedul.
He said the syndicate has about 10 to 15 members and they were trying to trace their whereabouts.