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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bangladesh police detain seven militants

CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Police have detained seven suspected members of a shadowy Islamist militant group in the Bangladesh port city of Chittagong, police said on Saturday.

They said the seven were detained on Friday following intelligence tips that the group, Hijbut Tawhid, was trying to set up a militant network in southeastern areas of the country.

Police could not immediately say if Hijbut had links with other local or foreign militant networks.

But they said Hijbut was apparently trying to take up the radical Islamist battle for introduction of sharia law in Muslim democratic Bangladesh after security forces cracked down on two other militant groups.

"We are trying to find out more details about the Hijbut Tawhid and if they have a presence elsewhere in the country or links with other militant groups," said one Chittagong policeman.

Two outlawed Islamist groups -- Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh -- have drastically curbed activities after their supreme commanders, Shayek Abdur Rahman and Siddukul Islam Bangla Bhai, were arrested and sentenced to death early this year.

The sentences have yet to be carried out.

State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar told reporters last week some of the groups' followers might launch a fresh offensive in the run-up to next January's general election.

The two groups were blamed for bomb attacks across the country in 2005, killing at least 30 people and wounding 150 including judges, lawyers, police and officials.

Chittagong and nearby southeastern areas bordering Myanmar are a hub for outlaws who often dump weapons in deep jungle for use in a range of criminal activities, security officials say.

India often blames its neighbour for sheltering Indian militants, but Bangladesh insists no rebels or militants from across the border are hiding on its territory.

Minister Babar said on Friday that security had been further tightened along the porous frontiers with India and Myanmar as well as throughout the country. He did not elaborate.
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