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B'desh says Islamist militants on the run

A Bangladeshi army general says the militants are weaker than they were two years ago when they carried out a series of nationwide bombings.

world Updated: Aug 12, 2007 15:55 IST

Bangladesh's Islamist militants are weaker than they were two years ago when they carried out a series of nationwide bombings, an army general said on Sunday, because of a security crackdown and lack of popular support.

The outlawed Islamist groups are fighting to turn mainly Muslim, democratic Bangladesh into a sharia-based Islamic republic. The campaign suffered a blow after six top leaders were captured, tried and executed in March this year.

"The unpopular effort by some miscreants, using the banner of religion, has met with greater resistance from the people and law enforcing agencies," Lieutenant-General Masud Uddin Chowdhury told reporters, referring to the militants.

Chowdhury spoke days ahead of the anniversary of one of the country's worst bombings when around 500 small bombs simultaneously went off on Aug. 17, 2005, killing two people and wounding about 100. The attacks were blamed on the Islamists.

Through the rest of that year, the activists of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh launched more attacks, killing nearly 30 people, including judges, lawyers, police and officials.

But since an army-backed interim government took over in January in the wake of widespread political violence, security forces have stepped up the hunt for the militants.

Nearly a dozen Islamists, including a fugitive militant convicted to hang, were arrested in the last month alone, and bombs and explosives seized.

"It is very difficult to develop a terrorist camp ... in a densely populated country as people would reject them," Chowdhury said.

But intelligence officials said many of the followers of the Islamist leaders were still active and trying to regroup.

"The terrorist groups have been working here for long, so it is not possible to destroy them overnight, though they are not that much organised now," Nur Mohammad, Inspector General of Police, told Reuters.

He said security forces were on alert ahead of the anniversary of the bombings.