June 22, 2009 / 10:08 AM / 11 years ago

Bangladesh arrests 20 Islamists, seizes explosives

By Nizam Ahmed

DHAKA, June 22 (Reuters) - Bangladesh security forces seized explosives and arrested some 20 Islamist militants in the last two days in raids across the South Asian country of more than 140 million people, police said on Monday.

They said among those detained were the IT (information technology) chief of the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) group, Enamul Haque Rajib, who graduated from an engineering university.

Explosives, grenade shells, revolvers, IT equipment and detonators were seized in the raids, an officer of the Rapid Action Battalion (elite force) told Reuters.

"It’s an achievement that we could track and arrest ... Rajib," he said.

Militant violence, political turbulence and periods of authoritarian rule have plagued Bangladesh over the years and are cited by analysts as a negative factor for would-be investors and foreign aid agencies.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took office in January, after a democratic election to replace an army-backed "interim authority", promising to try to bring stability.

JMB, one of several outlawed Islamist groups seeking to turn mostly Muslim Bangladesh into a sharia-based Islamic state, was blamed for a series of deadly bombings in late 2005 in which at least 30 people were killed and some 150 others were wounded.

The militants have been on the back foot since the top six JMB commanders were tried and executed in 2007.

But security officials say they are stepping up the hunt for militants as they have been trying to regroup and launch fresh attacks.

Most detained in the latest raids were taken in Dhaka, the sprawling capital of 11 million people, but there were also raids in the northern Mymensingh district and northwestern Rajshahi region.

Bangladesh has abundant cheap labour, as well as untapped resources like natural gas, but has lagged behind the region in economic growth partly because of its violent history and political uncertainty. (Editing by Anis Ahmed and Jerry Norton)

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