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Bangladesh arrests five suspected Islamist extremists

AFP , Thursday 8 Dec 2016
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Bangladesh's elite security force on Thursday arrested five suspected members of a banned Islamist extremist outfit who it said were planning to break their leaders out of jail.

The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) said the men were members of the banned Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HuJI), whose leader Mufti Abdul Hannan this week had his death sentence upheld by the country's highest court.

The group is accused of orchestrating a series of deadly blasts targeting a Christian church, an Ahmadi Muslim mosque, and rallies of secular activists and communists.

"They (HuJI) remained inactive for a while and were trying to reorganise and plan attacks on law enforcers and prison vans to free their arrested leaders," RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told reporters in a press briefing.

Bangladesh is reeling from a wave of attacks on foreigners, rights activists and members of religious minorities.

Many of those deadly attacks were claimed by the international terrorist outfit Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda.

But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government blames local militant groups, rejecting claims by the international groups.

Since a deadly attack in July on a Dhaka cafe in which gunmen killed 22 people -- mostly foreigners -- security forces have shot dead at least 40 Islamist militants.

HuJI was formed in 1992 by Bangladeshis who had fought in Afghanistan in the war against Soviet forces.

It was the first Islamist extremist group to emerge in the Muslim-majority nation of 160 million and it turned to deadly attacks after Hannan took over its leadership in the late 1990s.

The five were arrested in two separate raids in the southeastern city of Chittagong, which has not had suffered a militant attack since since October last year.

Khan said three of the arrests were made at a hideout from where the RAB had recovered 12 IEDs, handguns, ammunition and jihadi books.

On Wednesday the Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld the death sentence handed down to Hannan and two of his followers for a 2004 attack on the British ambassador that left three people dead.

They could now be hanged within months unless they seek a review of the apex court's verdict. But chances of overturning a death sentence in a review is extremely rare in Bangladesh's judicial history.

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