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Bangladesh fires tear gas to flush out top Islamist

Written by: Staff
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SYLHET, Bangladesh, March 1 (Reuters) Bangladeshi forces fired tear gas shells today and pumped water into a house in a northeastern town in an attempt to flush out the country's top Islamist leader hiding inside, security officials said.

They were also planning to use tranquilliser guns to capture Shayek Abdur Rahman from the two-storey building in the town of Sylhet after his wife and eight other people detained earlier from the house confirmed that the fugitive was inside.

''Our intention is to arrest Shayek Abdur Rahman alive,'' said a security official supervising the operation since late yesterday.

''He is more valuable to the authorities alive than dead,'' said the officer, who asked not to be named.

Some 500 members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) elite force surrounded the house late yesterday after a tip-off that Shayek, supreme leader of outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, was living in the house in with his family.

Shayek's group and another outlawed radical Islamist organisation, the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, have been blamed for a wave of bombings in the impoverished nation that have killed 30 people and wounded 150 since August.

The crackdown came a day after a district court sentenced 21 activists of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen to death for their role in nationwide serial bombings last August. 17.

The death penalties were the first to be handed down for the attacks, when nearly 500 bombs went off across the country simultaneously.

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh are fighting to impose Islamic sharia law on Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim democracy.

An officer of the RAB told reporters earlier that Ayesha, Shayek's wife, their two sons and two daughters were among the nine people detained who came out of the house after tear gas shells were fired.

The identity of others could not be immediately confirmed.

Ayesha told the RAB that her husband was inside the two-storey building with two others and that the besieged house had a stockpile of bombs, bomb-making material and weapons.

Security officials said they had pumped water into the house to defuse the explosives.

''We have our target here and we will do everything possible to make him surrender,'' a RAB officer told Reuters by telephone from Sylhet, which is 400 km (240 miles) from the capital, Dhaka.

REUTERS SRS PM2123

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