DHAKA: Bangladesh’s elite security force said on Monday it had arrested five militants and seized a large quantity of explosives it suspects were destined for the upcoming new year celebrations.
Acting on a tip-off, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested a district commander of the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and four others from a Dhaka apartment late on Sunday, a spokesperson for the force said.
“We have recovered a huge cache of plastic explosive gels and detonators. We suspect they were planning to use the explosives during the Bengali new year celebration festival next month,” RAB spokesperson Sazzad Hossain said.
“We also have found propaganda books and leaflets which indicated they were trying to recruit people for committing such attacks,” Hossain told AFP.
Bengali new year on April 14 is Muslim-majority Bangladesh’s largest secular festival and has been targeted before.
In April 2001, at least 10 people were killed and scores injured when extremists threw bombs at new year revellers.
In 2005, the JMB carried out a deadly nationwide synchronised bombing campaign that shook the mainly moderate Sunni nation.
In subsequent bombing attacks targeting courts and government offices, at least 28 people were killed. Hundreds of suspected militants were later arrested and JMB’s top leaders were executed in 2007.
In recent months, police have blamed a regrouped JMB for an upsurge in deadly violence, including the murder of two foreigners last year and attacks on minority Shia, Ahmadi and Sufi Muslims, Hindus and Christians.
The government has rejected the Islamic State group’s claims of responsibility for some of those attacks, saying IS has no presence in the country.
Bangladesh has been plagued by unrest in the last three years, and experts say a long-running political crisis has radicalised opponents of the government.
Since November at least five JMB commanders have been killed in shootouts with security forces, police say.