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Bangladesh arrests more than 6000 in so-called crackdown on militants

Sydney Morning Herald - June 13, 2016

Dhaka More than 6000 people were arrested in Bangladesh after police said they launched a crackdown on Islamic militants after recurring machete attacks on secular thinkers and bloggers, claimed by radical Islamists.

Some 103 of those arrested were arrested for their alleged links with banned Islamist organisations while the rest were wanted for various crimes, police spokesman Kamrul Hasan said.

The roundup began last week after militants killed the wife of a police superintendent who had been investigating the machete attacks. Over the course of the week, the police said, they killed five militants in shootouts. They were members of the Jama'atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, one of two groups the authorities believe are behind most of the attacks, the police said.

Police picked up 2132 people Saturday increasing the total number of detainees to 6000 by Monday, according to the police counts.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said authorities would stop the killings of religious minorities and atheist campaigners in the country. She said the authorities "will do whatever is needed to stop the secret killings", which she blamed on a plot by opposition Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami.

Many citizens criticised the government for not taking action sooner against the militants, who have created a climate of terror since they began murdering secularist bloggers and others more than three years ago.

Since 2013, bloggers, freethinkers, religious minorities, foreigners, gay activists, followers of more liberal strains of Islam and others have been killed in attacks carried out mostly by groups of young men wielding machetes.

The government had previously arrested dozens of people involved in at least 40 such attacks, but until this past week had not carried out a nationwide crackdown. People close to the government said leaders were hesitant to clamp down for fear of alienating radical fundamentalists, who form a large voting bloc.

"I welcome this special drive. It should have been taken much earlier," said Shahriar Kabir, general secretary of the South Asian People's Union Against Fundamentalism and Communalism. The police believe Kabir was one of the militants' top targets, and he leaves his house only with police protection.

But the leading opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, accused the government of using the crackdown as an excuse to round up opponents. "In the name of an anti-militant drive, the government is arresting opposition activists, including BNP and other anti-government people," said Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, the party's senior joint secretary-general.

Five members of Jama'atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh were killed in shootouts with the police during the week, including one militant wanted in connection with the killing of a doctor last year and another who was suspected of shooting up a Shiite mosque during evening prayers last year, the police said.

In addition to local groups, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for some of the killings on social media, and several attacks have been claimed by a faction of al-Qaida on the Indian subcontinent.

The nationwide crackdown will continue until Thursday, said Inspector General of Police Shahidul Hoque. (DPA, New York Times)

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/bangladesh-arrests-more-than-6000-in-socalled-crackdown-on-militants-20160613-gphjvw.html.

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