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More Than 5,000 Arrested in Bangladesh Sweep

Bangladeshi policemen stand guard outside the Dhaka Central Jail in Dhaka, Bangladesh, June 12, 2016. Police in Bangladesh said Sunday that they have arrested more than 5,000 criminal suspects in the past few days as they continue a nationwide crackdown t

Police in Bangladesh say they have arrested more than 5,000 criminal suspects in the first three days of a nationwide sweep in response to a rash of extremist violence against religious minorities and secular activists.

National Police chief Shahidul Hoque, speaking Sunday, said the arrests include at least 85 militants, and that all the detentions were made on specific charges.

Militants have been blamed for more than 30 deaths in Bangladesh since early last year, including bloggers, gay rights activists, Christians and Hindus. Islamic State extremists have claimed responsibility for more than 20 of the killings.

In the past week, IS militants have claimed responsibility for the deaths of a Hindu monastery worker, an elderly Hindu priest and a Christian merchant. All three were hacked to death. The Muslim wife of a key counterterrorism official was also stabbed and shot dead.

Despite IS claims, Bangladesh authorities continue to insist there are no foreign terror groups operating in the country. Instead, they blame home-grown militants - and in some cases the political opposition - for the violence.

Though officially a secular country, about 90 percent of Bangladeshis are Muslim.

The latest crackdown was launched Thursday, just days after the wife of a senior police official who led raids against drug cartels and militants was stabbed and killed in the southeastern city of Chittagong.

A report released in April by the International Crisis Group said the government crackdown, including the arrest and prosecution of suspects "without due process and transparency, is fueling alienation that [extremist] groups can further exploit."

Despite the uptick in killings, the Dhaka government has rejected those concerns.