Bangladesh police shot and killed a top militant who was the main suspect behind deadly bomb blasts at a Shia shrine during late-night raids, officers said on Thursday.
Five militants from banned local extremist outfit Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were also arrested during the raids carried out by police in Dhaka late on Wednesday.
Police accused the slain militant, a JMB commander who went by multiple aliases including “Albany”, of hurling grenades into the capital’s main Shia shrine which was packed with worshippers last month, killing two and injuring dozens.
The raids came as tensions ran high in Bangladesh following a spate of targeted killings and fears of mounting extremist violence in the conservative country of 160 million.
“Albany was injured in an encounter with police on Wednesday night. Later he was brought to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where a duty doctor declared him dead,” Dhaka police spokesman Monirul Islam said at a briefing.
“Albany threw five grenades at the crowd at Hossaini Dalan (Shia shrine),” Islam added, without using a formal name for the militant. “He was also the main suspect in the murder of a police officer at Ashulia (outside Dhaka) and he slaughtered Khizir Khan, a Sufi leader, early this month.”
The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the October 24 shrine blasts and a series of other attacks including the killing of two foreigners weeks earlier.
But the government has said IS has no presence in Bangladesh and instead accused homegrown militant groups, including JMB, and the extremist-allied political opposition of trying to destabilise the country.
Police suspect JMB has been trying to regroup in recent years after its then leaders were executed in 2007 over a series of blasts. The shrine attack further heightened the fears of minorities living in the mainly Muslim but officially secular state.
While the blasts were believed to be the first attack on Shias in Bangladesh, banned militant groups have killed more than a dozen Sufi Muslims and attacked Hindus and Christians in the last two years.
The killing of four atheist bloggers and a publisher this year has also undermined government efforts to play down the threat posed by hardliners, experts said.
The country has been plagued by unrest in the last three years, and experts have warned that a long-running political crisis has radicalised opponents of the government.