DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — 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 to try and stop a growing wave of brutal attacks on minorities and activists.
Since the crackdown began on Thursday, police have arrested 5,324 people, including 85 suspected Islamist radicals, said police spokesman Kamrul Ahsan. The majority of those arrested have petty criminal records. More arrests are expected through this week.
At least 18 people, including atheist bloggers, foreign aid workers and religious minorities, have been killed in attacks over the last two years. In separate incidents last week, two Hindus were fatally attacked. The attacks have alarmed the international community and raised questions about whether Bangladesh's secular government can protect minorities and secular writers and intellectuals in the Muslim-majority nation.
The crackdown began four days after the wife of a police superintendent who led drives against Islamist militants and drug cartels was shot and stabbed to death in the southeastern city of Chittagong. The killing caused a furor among Bangladesh's political establishment, many of whom considered her as one of their own.
Days after that attack, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to root out radicals and defeat their bid to establish Islamic rule in the country.
Authorities have arrested suspects in some of the 18 attacks, mostly low-level operatives accused of following orders to carry out attacks, but none has been prosecuted. Police have said they are waiting until investigations are complete before taking any suspects to court.
Almost all the attacks have been claimed by transnational Islamist extremist groups, including the Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliates. The killing Friday of a Hindu ashram worker in northern Bangladesh was also claimed by IS, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online.
Hasina's government, however, says transnational terror groups have no presence in the South Asian nation of 160 million. It blames the attacks on domestic groups aligned with political opposition parties, though it has presented no evidence of such a campaign and the opposition denies the allegations.