DHAKA, Bangladesh – Police in northern Bangladesh arrested three suspected militants tied to a banned Islamic group and seized a large cache of bomb-making materials, an official said Thursday.
The raids came days before national elections to restore democracy, though police said it was unclear whether the explosives were part of any plot to disrupt the polls.
Officials seized at least 50 casings of grenades, explosives, batteries and books on jihad, or holy war, according to S.M. Muniruzzaman, police chief of the Gaibandha district where the arrests were made in separate raids Wednesday and Thursday.
He said the suspects are members of the Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh group, which has been blamed for bombings in Bangladesh in recent years.
Muniruzzaman said all three confessed that they are linked with the banned group.
"They have given some other names, we are trying to arrest them too," he said.
Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh has been blamed for more than 400 small bombs that exploded across Bangladesh on one day in 2005, killing two people and wounding dozens. Since then, the militants are believed to have killed another 24 people and wounded dozens.
The group wants to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation of 150 million people that is ruled by secular laws.
Six top members of Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh were hanged last year, including its leader, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, after they were found guilty of carrying out bombings and killing two judges.
Muniruzzaman said it was not clear immediately if the militants were preparing to disrupt the national elections slated for Monday after nearly two years of military-backed interim rule.
Bangladesh had been under a state of emergency since January 2007, when President Iajuddin Ahmed canceled scheduled elections after weeks street violence over electoral reforms. The emergency rule was lifted on Dec. 17 in preparation for new elections.