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Bangladesh Arrests Senior Islamic Militant Leader

Bangladeshi security forces have arrested the leader of an Islamic militant group accused of involvement in deadly bombings that killed more than 30 people last year. His arrest comes days after another top militant was taken into custody. Both men are accused of leading a violent campaign to impose Islamic law in Bangladesh.

Officials say the second-in-command of the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin group, Siddiqul Islam, was detained in a remote village in Mymensingh district following a half-hour gun battle early Monday.

They said Islam was injured when his supporters hurled bombs and opened fire after police surrounded his hideout. He was taken to hospital for treatment.

Before Islam joined the Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin, he led a group known as the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh. It was blamed for forcing women to wear veils and men to grow beards in several villages.

Islam was arrested five days after the detention of Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin's top leader, Shaikh Abdur Rahman. The two have been described as the brains behind a violent campaign that aimed at replacing Bangladesh's secular system with strict Islamic law.

The violence intensified when coordinated explosions went off across the entire country last August. A wave of suicide bombings followed, prompting authorities to launch a massive drive to hunt the two men down.

Ajay Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, says the arrests suggest that the government is finally getting tough on terrorism. "At this stage I would say this is extremely significant couple of

catches," said Sahni. "They suggest that there is some current intent on the part of the Bangladesh government to get these people under control."

But Sahni said concerns about the growth of Islamic terrorism in Bangladesh will only be allayed if justice is quickly served on the two militants. He pointed out that Islam and Rahman have already been sentenced in absentia by a Bangladeshi court to 40 years in prison for a bomb attack that killed two judges last year.

"We have to basically wait and see what is done to these people. Are

they brought to conviction? They have already been convicted. Are they

brought to punishment, are the sentences against them executed?" he said. "Is there a serious effort - or is this (just) something being done under enormous

international pressure?"

In the past, Bangladeshi authorities have been accused of not doing enough to curb the extremists, largely because of the presence of hard-line Islamic parties in the ruling alliance. But the outcry that followed last year's bombings both at home and overseas prompted the government to promise swift action against the militants.