SYLHET , March 26, 2017 (BSS) - At least two militants were killed as a military assault on a militant hideout was underway for the second consecutive day while the extremist retaliation overnight saw deaths of six, two being police officers, in northeastern Sylhet.
"The two slain militants are male . . . our commandos fired gunshots seeing the two on ground floors (of the five-storey building) when they fell down," an army spokesman told newsmen near the scene.
Brigadier General Fakhrul Ahsan added one of the two extremists detonated his suicide vest confirming their instant deaths but the military-led assault was underway as "we assume more militants are there inside".
Ahsan added that the militants were equipped with small arms, explosives and grenades, a situation which he said slowed down the operations progress at the building presumably occupied by operatives of Neo-Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB).
According to the US-based SITE Intelligence, the Islamic State claimed the responsibility of the last night's subsequent retaliatory attack at the scene.
But Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan rejected it reiterating Bangladesh stance that there was no presence of any foreign terrorist group in the country while attributing the act to home grown militants
He also told the newsmen that there were nearly 150 rooms in the five-storey building, while the militants laid out improvised explosive devices (IED) at different rooms, corners and stairs forcing "us to proceed carefully".
The development came hours after the commandos launched their final assault as death toll in militant retaliation overnight rose to six. The dead included two police inspectors and four onlookers, two of them being college students and two businessmen.
They were officer in charge of investigations in Jalalabad Police Station Monirul Islam, police inspector Chowdhury Mohammad Abu Koisor, collage students and local BCL leaders Wahidul Islam Apu and Zannatul Fahim and businessmen Shahidul Islam and Khadim Shah.
"The entire area (still) remains risky. Considering the overall situation, it will take more time for the operation to complete," he told the briefing that came 24 hours after army's last statement, which was immediately followed by the retaliatory attacks visibly launched by fellow extremists outside.
Ahsan told the briefing that the commandos entered the building from the top to avoid "booby traps" laid out on the ground floor and then "we used tear gas when they (militants) started running around".
He said their primary objective of their operation was safe evacuation of ordinary residents which was accomplished by now, while the current goal of the assault was to "neutralise" the militants, evading casualties on the part of the para-commandos.
"The honourable Prime Minister has directed us to rescue all the hostages trapped inside the building while we dedicated our all out efforts to accomplish the task (and) with the grace of Allah we were able to evacuate safely 30 male, 27 women and 21 children," Ahsan said.
He added: "No military personnel have been injured (as well) in the operation so far."
Residents who lived in the house as tenants said they were virtually taken to hostage with militants warning them of bombs implanted on their way out while the commandos brought them out from the top of the building making their way there from the rooftop of an adjacent structure.
Banker Biswajit Das, a tenant of the house, said militants' warnings debarred them from coming out until commandos extracted them from the building.
"They (militants) said bombs were implanted in downstairs which would blow us up if we try to evacuate . . . so we did not open the door," he said.
Another resident Badrul Islam, a tenant of the ground floor of the house, said his five-member family including a six-year-old child was trapped inside "thinking we could die any moment".
Police earlier enforced a stricter ban on people's movement in the vicinity imposing the Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in view of the last night's casualties since morning when the para-commandos prepared for the final assault.
An army major general leads the crackdown, assisted by police's SWAT; counter terrorism unit and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which draws men from police and military forces.
Doctors, meanwhile, said over 50 people were treated at a major state-run hospital alone in Sylhet after the subsequent blasts which also injured two military officers serving in RAB. Two RAB officials were moved to a combined military hospital (CMH) in Dhaka.
A crowd of at over 500 people were standing on a regional highway keeping a distance of over 400 yards from the terrorist occupied building when the militants exploded a powerful device, visibly being mixed up with ordinary people.
They staged the second blast came in less than an hour as security personnel replaced the onlookers and took position at the site where the explosive experts of RAB were examining the evidence.
Officials said an elderly woman evacuated from a building adjacent to Atia Mahal earlier today while 78 ordinary residents including 27 women and 21 children were moved out before as army intervened at the scene yesterday morning.
Earlier reports said at least two suspected militants including a female were inside on Atia Mahal's ground floor but security officials feared a "whole lot of them" could also be there as the crackdown began.
Police discovered the Sylhet hideout less than a week after they cracked down two identical militant dens in Chittagong where four extremists were killed
Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)