— The Bangladeshi police ended on Friday a week of mass arrests in response to the three-year campaign of killings by Islamist militants, saying that among the more than 11,000 people detained in the sweeps, 194 were believed to be linked to militant networks.
The arrests came under sharp criticism from human rights activists and opposition leaders in Bangladesh
, who said the authorities hoped mainly to demonstrate to the public that they were taking vigorous action to stop the killing. The police, they said, often simply round up young men without providing either evidence of wrongdoing or due process.
A leader of the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party said more than 2,700 of those arrested were detained because they were critics of the current government.
“The government is responsible for identifying the real militants and arresting them,” said Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, the party’s senior joint secretary general. “Now, they are arresting a large number of B.N.P. leaders, activists and supporters to hide their failure.”
The sweeps reflect rising pressure on the Bangladeshi authorities to respond to the eerie broad-daylight killings of bloggers, academics and other secularist voices by members of underground militant networks.
The police say that 151 of the 194 militants arrested this week are associated with a single group, Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh. All of them figure on a police list of 800 important suspected militants, and 20 are considered “very significant arrests,” said Monirul Islam, director of counterterrorism for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
When the attacks began occurring regularly in 2013, the attackers singled out figures little known outside their own ideological circles. But in recent months, the killers have edged closer to Bangladesh’s ruling elites. In April, a group of assailants killed a campaigner for gay rights who was from a prominent Dhaka family. In June, in an unnerving development for the police, attackers killed the wife of a police superintendent known for leading counterterrorism operations.
The sweeps have received heavy television coverage in Bangladesh. One photograph released by the police showed a village where police officers had distributed heavy bamboo truncheons to local men, with orders to use them if they spotted militants.
Despite the roundup, a new attack took place on Wednesday, when three men with machetes attacked a Hindu mathematics instructor as he tried to enter his home. The man’s neighbors heard his screams and intervened, saving his life and catching one of the attackers, said Uttam Kumar Paul, superintendent of the police in Madaripur, a district in central Bangladesh.
The police say they have made some breakthroughs as a result of the sweeps. On Thursday, Mr. Islam announced the arrest of Sumon Hossain Patwari, 20, who is accused of cutting the throat of a publisher with a machete last October. The publisher, Ahmedur Rashid Tutul, survived the assault.
Mr. Patwari was a member of a five-man team that was moved into a rented home in Dhaka for two months for extensive training from two instructors, said Mr. Islam, the police counterterrorism official.
Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group based in New York, issued a harsh appraisal of the weeklong operation, saying the police sought to compensate for what had been a “slow and complacent response to these horrific attacks.”
Brad Adams, the organization’s Asia director, said demonstrative arrests are typically carried out without warrants and often leave thousands of innocent people coping with criminal cases.
“In the best-case scenario, they are taking all these people and trying to put them through a sifter,” he said in an interview.
The United States
ambassador, Marcia Bernicat, in remarks carried by a Bangladeshi cable news station on Thursday, urged the Bangladeshi government to “make sure that the process is transparent” and that police personnel face disciplinary action, including firing or jailing, if they are found guilty of violations of human rights.