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Bangladesh Arrests Chief of Islamist Militant Outfit

Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangladesh police have arrested the leader of an Islamist organization at his hideout in Dhaka, officers said Saturday, months after the launch of a crackdown against the group.

Shamin Mahfuz, the founder of Jamaat al Ansar fil Hindal Sharqiya, is accused of helping to run militant training camps in the country's restive Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Police said Mahfuz was arrested late Friday along with his wife in an industrial suburb of the capital, where they were found with a pistol, explosives and bomb-making materials.

"An anti-terrorism case has been filed against Mahfuz. We seek 10 days of remand to question him," Mohammad Asaduzzaman of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit told reporters.

Lawyers for Mahfuz could not be reached for comment.

Asaduzzaman said the Sharqiya founder had first been detained in 2014 and came into contact with other outlawed extremist groups while in prison.

He said Mahfuz had brokered a deal for the organization to use training camps run by the Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF), a mainly Christian tribal insurgent group.

Last October the country's elite Rapid Action Battalion security force said it had launched an assault on the KNF and Sharqiya encampments in three remote hill towns near the Indian border, arresting dozens of people.

The crackdown forced hundreds of villagers to flee across the border and take refuge in the northeast Indian state of Mizoram.

Fresh clashes between the KNF and the Bangladesh military killed at least five soldiers in the last four months, the army has said.

The KNF rejected any connection with Sharqiya in a Facebook post last year.

Bangladesh security forces launched a nationwide drive against Islamist extremists last decade after a series of high-profile terror attacks that killed nearly a dozen atheist writers, secular and gay activists and minorities.

In the deadliest incident, members of an Islamic State-linked group killed 22 civilians, including 17 foreigners during a siege at an upmarket restaurant in Dhaka in 2016.

Bangladesh police shot and killed more than 100 people in nationwide raids on extremist hideouts and arrested thousands of alleged members of extremist groups.