DHAKA (AFP) – Bangladesh police said Thursday they have arrested two suspected extremist militants whom they accused of planning to set up an al-Qaeda branch in the Muslim-majority country.
Detectives raided several properties in the Bangladesh capital, arresting five militants, including two members of a little-known local hardline extremist group, a Dhaka police spokesman said.
The two admitted during questioning to planning “to set up an al-Qaeda network” in Bangladesh, spokesman Monirul Islam told reporters.
The arrests come after al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri announced earlier this month plans to launch a South Asian branch of the militant network.
Asif Adnan, 24, and Fazle Elahi Tanzil, 26, were members of the local Ansarullah Bangla Team, blamed for the murder last year of a blogger who was critical of Islam.
Several banned extremist militant groups operate in Bangladesh and have been blamed for a series of deadly attacks since the late 1990s. But none of them have been linked to al-Qaeda.
Police said local militants have been motivated by al-Qaeda’s announcement of the new branch, which it said would “wage jihad” in South Asia.
They have also been spurred by a Bangladeshi-origin British resident whom police were attempting to find after his arrival in the country recently “with a mission to strengthen the al-Qaeda network” here.
“The arrested persons admitted that they are preparing to wage armed extremism under his (the British resident’s) leadership,” a Dhaka police statement said.