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Police weak on illegal firearms recovery

Iqbal Mahmud

The law enforcement agencies appear reluctant to carry out special drives to recover illegal firearms despite their increasing use by criminals in committing murders and other types of crime in recent times, particularly before and after the January 5 elections.
In a marked departure from the traditional law enforcement activity during national polls, law enforcers this time chose not to take special measures to seize illegal firearms and explosives, though a number of people were shot dead after the 10th parliamentary election on January 5.
Moreover, the number of countrywide firearms recovery came down gradually throughout 2013, around the same time the country witnessed one of its most turbulent years since independence, with more than 500 political killings reported.
Statistics of the police headquarters showed a growing incidents of murder in recent times. In September last year, at least 376 murders were recorded, the number was 353 in October, 354 in November and 404 in December.
The picture was no different in the capital. Dhaka Metropolitan Police crime data showed that 33 murders were committed in the city in December last year; the number was 20 each in November and October and 19 in September.
The number of all types of murder was 4,393 in 2013 – the highest in a single year in a decade, according to police statistics.
While incidents of murder have increased alarmingly, the rates of firearms recovery have been disappointing. 
In August last year, police recovered 142 firearms countrywide, the number was 148 in September, 116 in October and 104 in November.
Political analysts and criminologists say law enforcement agencies were busy arresting opposition activists, rather than conducting crime-specific drives, as thousands of activists of Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami were arrested by joint forces during the period.
Md Ashraful Alam, chairman of criminology and police science at Maulana Bhashani Science and Technology University, said that lack of vigorous drives for recovery of illegal firearms, had encouraged criminals, many of them backed by several political parties, to commit various types of crime, including murders.
The Rapid Action Battalion legal and media wing director, wing commander ATM Habibur Rahman, however, claimed that they were still carrying out regular operations for seizure of illegal firearms.
Even after the national polls, murders committed with firearms were yet to be checked.
In a latest such incident, a union parishad chairman and local unit Awami League leader, Fazlar Rahman Fanu, 65, was shot dead by masked gunmen at Hajipukur in Singra upazila of Natore district on January 18.
On the same day, the body of a local BNP leader Golam Rabbani was found with marks of bullet wounds in the head.
Unidentified miscreants shot dead a businessman, Ziaur Rahman, 32, in Satkania upazila of Chittagong on January 20.
Additional deputy commissioner of Detective Branch in Dhaka Metropolitan Police, Sanwar Hossain, who deals with firearms and explosives-related issues, told New Age that there had been a surge in the trading of illegal firearms and explosives in recent times.
By interrogating some of the arrested criminals, it was found that the increasing demand for illegal firearms, particularly small arms, had pushed up their prices in the criminal underworld. ‘Small firearms are selling at as much as Tk 70,000 per piece and in some cases at Tk 100,000 per piece,’ said Sanwar.
RAB and detectives claimed that they had identified the entry points of illegal firearms in the country’s borders and the supply chains leading to the buyers. However, there seems little improvement in the situation. The use of illegal firearms in committing crimes continues unabated.
A RAB official said that members of some organised gangs they had arrested in recent times confessed to having been involved in the firearms trade. The RAB found that most of the firearms, especially pistols and revolvers, were being smuggled into the country through different border points like Kansat in Rajshahi, Gangni in Meherpur, Kalaroa in Satkhira, Benapole, Sharsha, Chowgachha in Jessore, Maheshpur in Jhenidah, Daulatpur in Kushtia and various other points in Chuadanga.
There are no statistics available on how many illegal firearms are there in the country, however, the number of small arms recovered in recent times has increased.
According to the elite force, in 2013, it had recovered 708 local and foreign firearms.
Detectives and criminologists said that small arms were generally used in extortion, mugging, robbery and other crimes, but the situation had recently changed as political activists were now using such weapons in carrying out political vendettas.
Ashraful Alam said activists of political parties, during the election time, had tried to establish supremacy and used firearms to that end.

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