In an operation that lasted for over four days and cost the lives of two police officers, heavily-armed commandos today neutralised all four "well-trained" Islamist militants, including a woman, who were holed up in a building.
The four days of siege saw powerful blasts claimed by the Islamic State that killed six people in Bangladesh's northeastern Sylhet city.
"We've found four bodies inside the building. All are with suicide vests," Brig General Mohammad Fakhrul Ahsan told reporters at a news briefing on the fourth day of the security siege of the five-storey building 'Atia Mahal'.
"Our intelligence earlier suggested four militants, one being a woman, were inside the building...So we assume that no militant was alive anymore," he said.
The seige, codenamed 'Operation Twilight' is being led by Sylhet-based 17 Infantry Division's Major General Anwarul Momen and is assisted by police's SWAT and counter-terrorism units.
Of the four militants, two including a woman were killed today, Ahsan said, adding that the bodies of female militant and one man were handed over to police but two others were inside as they were wired or surrounded by explosives.
The army is planning how to recover the bodies, he said.
The slain militants were yet not identified. However, officials had earlier indicated that Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh chief Musa could be inside the building. The neo-JMB, said to be inclined to the Islamic State, was behind the July 1 terror attack on a Dhaka cafe in which 22 people, including 17 foreigners, were killed.
"The militants we found were well-trained," Ahsan said. "Our operation will take some more time. We will proceed with instructions from our superiors."
The building is very risky as a huge cache of explosives including improvised explosive devices have been found scattered inside its premises, he said, adding that "the building will collapse if all these were to explode."
The development came shortly after Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters in Dhaka that the commandos could wrap up their ongoing assault anytime after neutrilising the militants.
"We expect the operation to end anytime, defeating the militants there," he said, adding that the para-commandos "proceeded slowly to minimise casualties" at the scene.
Earlier, fire broke out at the building occupied by the militants. Large gusts of smoke were seen coming out of the ground floor around 3:40 PM (local time). Fire fighters rushed to the scene and controlled the flames.
Army quickly moved in from the rear preparing for what it seemed like another assault, it said.
Around noon, the army used megaphones to ask the militants, who were holed up in the building, to surrender.
However, there was no response from the other side. After a relative lull since last night, sporadic gunfire and explosions were heard this morning from the building.
The military operation was launched after a suicide bomber on Friday night blew himself up at the international airport in Dhaka in an attack claimed by the ISIS. It came a week after an identical attack on a RAB camp in Dhaka.
Authorities called out commandos on Saturday morning, two days after a security siege to the building.
On Saturday evening, two powerful bombs ripped through a crowd near the building, killing six people, two being police officers and injuring about 50, including two army officers.
Elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Intelligence Wing chief Lt Col Abul Kalam was seriously wounded in blasts and flown to Dhaka for treatment. He was later flown to Singapore.
The attacks were carried out by the extremists from outside who were mixed up with onlookers, police said.
Hours later the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through its propaganda news agency 'Amaq'.
Home Minister Khan, however, rejected the ISIS claim, saying that there was no presence of any foreign terrorist group in the country.
The encounter continued into Sunday, when army commandos shot dead two militants at the building.
The commandos located the militants wearing suicide vests on the ground floor of the building and shot them dead.
The militants were equipped with small arms, explosives and grenades and laid out booby traps at different corners of the building, slowing down the military operation.
The commandos earlier evacuated 78 ordinary residents including children from the building.
Meanwhile, residents who lived in the building said they were virtually taken hostage by militants who warned them of bombs implanted on their way out. The commandos brought them out from the top of the building making their way there from the rooftop of an adjacent structure.
Bangladesh has been witnessing a spate of attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities since 2013. The country launched a massive crackdown on militants specially after the Dhaka cafe attack.
(With PTI inputs)