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Leading Terrorist Suspect Arrested in Bangladesh


Bangladeshi security forces have arrested the leader of a militant Muslim group blamed for mounting a violent campaign to impose Islamic law in the country. His arrest is likely to be a setback to Bangladesh's growing Islamic extremism.

Shaikh Abdur Rahman, the leader of the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin organization, was on Bangladesh's most-wanted list since a wave of deadly bombings hit the country last year.

Rahman surrendered after hundreds of security personnel mounted a 30-hour siege of his hideout in the northeastern city of Sylhet.

Police say nine of his family members came out Wednesday after police fired tear gas into the building. Rahman, along with two associates, then walked out early Thursday.

Rahman's Jamaat-ul Mujahedin is demanding the imposition of strict Islamic law in Bangladesh - a democracy governed by secular laws despite its overwhelming Muslim majority.

The group came into the spotlight last August when it was blamed for staging serial blasts that saw about 400 small bombs go off all across Bangladesh on a single day. These were followed by several suicide bomb attacks - the first ever in the country.

The spate of attacks killed more than 30 people and injured scores. The targets included judges, lawyers and political rallies, and the growing violence raised worries that Islamic extremists were spreading their influence in Bangladesh.

A security analyst in Dhaka, former Brigadier General Sakawat Hossain, says Mr. Rahman's arrest will reassure the international community that the government is determined to tackle terrorism.

"This country had almost earned a bad name, that it became an intolerant society and that Islamic extremism has taken roots in Bangladesh, so that I think would be somewhat dispelled," he said.

As Rahman was taken away, crowds shouted "Death to the terrorists." Security analyst Hossain says the bombings had shocked ordinary people across Bangladesh, prompting strong public demands for a crackdown on the extremists.

"The best thing what has happened, that people of this country have refused to accept any form of extremism, and that is one of the the biggest causes that these kind of people have been caught, I would say, without much of bloodshed, without much lapse of time," he said.

Hundreds of militants have been taken into custody in recent months, but until Rahman's arrest, the top leaders of his organization remained at large. That had prompted accusations that the government was not doing enough to crush the terrorists.