The operation inside Atia Mahal, the militant den under raid in Sylhet Shibbari, reached 84 hours Monday afternoon, as para-commandos continued their efforts to capture the unidentified militants stationed inside.
On Monday morning, sporadic gunshots were heard between 5:15am and 8:45am. Two huge explosions were heard from inside the building. Gunfire was once again heard at noon.
Law enforcers have cordoned off a nearly one square kilometre area surrounding the Atia Mahal.
On Sunday, two of the militants inside were shot dead by commandos. The identities of the militants could not be ascertained yet and it is unclear which group they belong to. However, unconfirmed sources say they are members of New JMB.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and security forces say they suspect a senior militant leader could be hiding inside Atia Mahal. Unconfirmed sources said New JMB leader Mainul Islam Musa is staying there with several other senior militant leaders of the banned outfit.
On Saturday, six people, including two suspected bombers and two police officers, were killed and more than 40 people injured in what was initially described as twin "suicide" blasts on Saturday.
Law enforcers on Sunday further claimed the explosions may have been triggered by a "time bomb-like" device found in a bag no more than 250 metres from Atia Mahal.
Police filed a case on Monday against unnamed persons over the blasts, Mogholabazar police OC Khairul Fazal said.
As of Sunday, 28 survivors of Saturday’s blast were being treated at the Sylhet Osmani hospital. Five of them were in post-operative care. Hospital Director Brig Gen Abdus Sabur Miah said hospital staff held 10 simultaneous surgeries on Saturday.
The raid began early Friday at 3am when police cordoned off the Atia Mahal. A SWAT team reached the spot around 4pm Friday. They were joined by Army’s Para-Commando Battalion in the evening. Currently CTTC, SWAT, RAB and police are taking part in the raid led by the Army.
Law enforcers were initially led to the house after the National Identity Card of one of tenants at the building raised suspicions.
Brig Gen Fakhrul Ahsan of Army Intelligence said at a press briefing Sunday evening that the para-commando operation would continue until the militants were all “neutralised.”
It cannot be said at this point when the operation will be completed, he said.
The officer said it was the operation's prime objective to retrieve the trapped residents without any harm and that had been achieved.
The current goal is to “neutralise” the militants while avoiding harm to the para-commandos. The army was working cautiously to that end at this point, he added.
Two militants engaged the commandos when they got down to the ground floor. They were shot down, but one of them nevertheless managed to explode the bomb tied to his body, informed the officer.
Both were male, the officer said.
He said that the entrance, ground floor and stairway of Atia Mahal were laden with Improvised Explosive Devices.
No military personnel has been injured in the operation so far.
Brig Gen Fakhrul described the militants inside as ‘well-trained and well-equipped’ in bomb operations.
“When the commandos fired tear gas shells, the militants lit fires to diffuse the impact,” he pointed out as an example.
He also provided details of the rescue operation on Saturday in which 78 residents of the building were extracted.
Time-bomb or suicide attack?
Early Sunday, SMP Special Branch’s Inspector Moniruzzaman, a bomb disposal unit member, died at Osmani Medical College Hospital from his injuries in the bomb explosions that took place in the perimeter of the police cordon around the den around 6:30pm.
SMP court Inspector Chowdhury Abu Kawsar, South Surma Chhatra League leader Jannatul Fahim, City Chhatra League leader Ohidul Islam Opu, and suspected bombers Shahidul Islam and Khadim Shah were also killed in the blasts.
Law enforcers initially described the blasts as a suicide attack. Two of the victims, Khadim Shah and Shahidul, are still under suspicion. The first bomb killed three of the victims including Khadimul, who arrived at the spot on a motorcycle. Moniruzzaman and Kawsar were killed while trying to diffuse the second bomb discovered in a black plastic bag. Rapid Action Battalion’s intelligence chief Lt Col Abul Kalam Azad was also injured in the second blast.
Law enforcers on Sunday stated the blast was triggered by a ‘time bomb-like’ explosive device left behind in a bag. “We are investigating the blast,” says SMP Additional Commissioner SM Rokan Uddin.
Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Haque issued a statement yesterday mourning the deaths of two police officials. “They have sacrificed their lives for the nation. Their sacrifices will stand forever as an ideal for the police force,” he said.
Azad was flown to Singapore for further medical treatment at 8pm yesterday, said RAB Media Wing Director Mufti Mahmud Khan.
Namaz-e-janaza of Inspectors Kawser and Monirul was held at Sylhet Metropolitan Police grounds around 2pm. Their bodies were taken to their villages in Noakhali and Sunamganj.