By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh police have shot dead five suspected Islamist militants in four days, as they step up their hunt for attackers who have killed at least 30 people in the last 16 months.
Police said they killed five suspected members of the outlawed Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen in shootouts in a crackdown since the wife of a key counter-terrorism police official was shot dead on Sunday.
“We’re conducting operations whenever it is needed. We won’t spare the killers, no matter who they are,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said.
This week, an elderly Hindu priest and a Christian shopkeeper were hacked to death, the latest of a series attacks against religious minorities, liberal bloggers and academics.
Islamic State said it was behind those attacks and al Qaeda has claimed similar ones in the past, but the government denies that either group has a presence in Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people, the majority of them Muslims.
Analysts say a climate of intolerance in Bangladeshi politics has both motivated and provided cover for perpetrators of religious hate crimes.
The government blames the growing violence on its political opponents linked to Islamist parties, aiming to create chaos and prevent war crimes trials for incidents that date back to 1971 from going ahead.
The opposition party denies the accusations.
At least 10 Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen members have been killed in shootouts since November after the killing of two foreigners, according to the police.
Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen had laid low since six of its leaders were hanged in 2007 for attacks that included 500 bombs exploding on a single day in 2005. Subsequent suicide attacks on courts killed 25 people and wounded hundreds.
Last month, police announced 1.8 million taka ($23,000) in rewards for information leading to the arrest of six militants of Ansarullah Bangla Team, the second outlawed group they believe is behind the violence.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)