In the middle of an ongoing joint operation to penetrate a militant hideout in Sylhet’s Shibbari, a suicide bomber exploded himself outside, killing at least three people. Around 40 others were injured.
The bomb went off around 6:45pm on Saturday in the middle of a crowd of at least 500-600 people who were standing about 250 metres from the militant den.
Three of the injured died at Osmani Medical College Hospital. They were Court Inspector Abu Kawser, local Chhatra League activist Wahidul Islam Opu and local businessman Shahidul Islam.
Minutes after the blast, Inspector Abu Kawser was injured by a bomb dropped by the suicide attacker.
Another, believed to be the bomber, was found dead on the spot.
Such a suicide attack on an unsuspecting crowd is the first of its kind in Bangladesh.
It cannot be ascertained at this point whether the crowd of spectators was the real target of the terrorists, and the den itself was a decoy, or if the attack was a distraction to aid the militants inside in some way.
Shah Paran OC Shahjalal Munshi said the blast took place on the road in front of the Gutatikor Madrasa. The road connects the den to the Shibbari main street.
Our Sylhet Correspondent Serajul Islam, on the spot, saw a gory scene of wounded persons lying around as the remaining crowd fled after the explosion.
Many of the wounded were being treated at Osmani Hospital. Hospital authorities told our correspondent they had treated at least 50 people. Law enforcement however, said 36 people were injured.
Sylhet Metropolitan Police ADC Jedan Al Musa said one unexploded bomb was found at the spot and two motorcycles were recovered.
Based on initial reports, police believe two attackers came on a motorcycle.
78 people extracted
Police and army para-commandos have been trying to penetrate the militant den on the ground floor of the building since around 9am on Saturday after having it cordoned off for roughly 30 hours. Their attempts have so far been foiled by explosives laid out around the building.
Locals of the town have been standing around the cordoned area from the start.
At 9pm, CTTC Assistant Commissioner Rohmot Ullah Chowdhury told the Dhaka Tribune that there were multiple live bombs still hidden throughout Atia Mahal, the building where the hideout was.
Around 6:30pm, militants hurled a grenade at crowds from the den. At least one person was injured in the incident.
From 9:30am to 1pm on Saturday, the para-commandos extracted around 70 people from Atia Mahal and moved them into an adjacent building. Some of them were taken to a nearby school initially. Right before the blast in the evening, at a short press briefing, Brig Gen Fakhrul Ahsan said 78 people were rescued from the building.
A pregnant woman was rushed to a hospital right after the extraction.
Brig Gen Fakhrul said that the militants had spread out through the building after planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices) as traps.
Asha Lata, a woman recovered from the building, said she had been sheltered in the bathroom of her flat the whole time.
Tapan Dey, another resident, said he and his wife, children and parents had locked themselves in one room.
“For two days, we were without light or water. We felt every moment that this might be the end. But thanks to the army we have been saved,” he said.
Brig Gen Fakhrul said there were over 150 rooms in the 30 flats in the building. Of the 78 rescued, 30 were men, 27 women and 21 children, he said.
Daylong gunfire, explosions
Army para-commandos, led by 17 Infantry Division GOC Maj Gen Anwarul Momen PSC, began the raid, named Operation Twilight, at 8:46am. Members of SWAT, RAB and regular police were controlling the outer perimeter.
Starting at 10:05am till 2pm, gunshots were heard intermittently from inside the building. The extractions were carried out in this time.
At 2:30pm, several explosions were heard from the inside. Smoke billowed out from the eastern and western sides of the building.
There were unconfirmed reports that some of the para-commandos had been injured. At 3:45pm, more gunshots were heard from Atia Mahal.
At 5pm, three explosions were heard. Then for half an hour, intense gun firing was heard every one to two minutes. The commotion was mostly from the western side of the building.
It has been quiet inside the building since.
Police first surrounded Atia Mahal and a nearby building around 3am Friday.
A team of 21 para-commandos reached the spot at 8am on Saturday. Another para-commando team assessed the area last night. Gas connections to the Shibbari area were disconnected from 7:40am. Later, about 15 vehicles, including four ambulances of Military Police, entered the area.
In preparation of the raid, law enforcers placed barricades on the Sylhet-Fenchuganj road. Three military armoured personnel carriers came in at 9am and have been stationed in the area since.
Osmani Medical College Hospital dispatched a three-member medical team to the area.