Residents of Begumganj in Noakhali have been taken hostage to an as some 21 big or small criminal groups have been unleashing violence in the locality.
Although the heads of these groups have no party ranks or posts, they have been using the names of political parties and committing crimes.
The criminals have no party.... I have asked the administration to take action against the extortion and drug trade by Sumon group, Samrat group, Delwar group and Titu group. The administration has taken steps and many of them were caught.Local MP Mamunur Rashid
Prothom Alo investigation finds fifteen of these groups have links with the ruling Awami League and its associate bodies. The remaining six are with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Of 16 unions and one municipality, these criminal groups are active in seven unions and in the municipality.
Local sources said there were some criminal groups in the locality during the BNP regime. New groups emerged in the last one decade. These people are identified as criminals and extortionists.
Following the stripping and assaulting of a woman in Noakhali and the circulation of the video of the victim on the social media, people came to know about the Delwar group.
After the arrest of Delwar, it was revealed that the political party and police knew everything. He was set free after the mob handed him over with arms to police.
People in the locality said a section of politicians has been providing shelter to these groups either to exert power in the local elections, or to contain the opponent groups or to keep the locality under control.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, local MP Mamunur Rashid said the criminals have no party.
He said he does not know whether anyone provides them shelter.
"I have asked the administration to take action against the extortion and drug trade by Sumon group, Samrat group, Delwar group and Titu group. The administration has taken steps and many of them were caught," he added.
The law enforcing agencies have no statistics of criminal groups in Begumganj.
According to Prothom Alo investigations and several government agencies, the names of 21 criminal groups have been found.
Begumganj police station officer-in-charge Muhammad Harun or Rashid Chowdhury has been recently withdrawn.
He claimed he was officer-in-charge (OC) of the police station for 16 months, but he did not hear names of any criminal groups.
Local sources said Samrat group and Suman group at Chowmuhani municipality are widely known for murders and criminal cases.
Members of both the groups are connected with the ruling party.
There are two groups-Samrat and Sumon. There are many cases against these two groups. They have been arrested at different times, and released on bail. The different criminal groups being discussed in recent times are not big ones.Noakhali superintendent of police Alamgir Hossain
Noakhali district Awami League president AHM Khairul Anam Chowdhury said the criminal groups are not encouraged from the party. But there are allegations that some leaders and people's representatives back criminals, he said.
The senior Awami League leader said, "Steps could not be taken in some cases due to some limitations."
The four unions most gripped by crime and violence are Amanullahpur, Alaiapur, Gopalpur and Jirtali
BNP's Titu group is controlling Alaiapur union.
Former and current people's representatives of Alaiapur union said two groups are notorious in this union. Alauddin, chief of one group, has been in the jail for several months. Titu has remained away from the locality for several months.
Masum group is active in Gopalpur union. Six groups are also active in Amanullapur.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Noakhali BNP district unit general secretary Abdur Rahman said the party will take action if any specific allegation is found against any BNP men.
Local people said Delwar Hossain, chief of Delwar group, was once a member of criminal Sumon group at Hazipur area of Chowmuhani municipality. He himself created a group two years ago. Although he was caught with arms and ammunition in Chowmuhani, he was not sent to jail as he had connections with the leaders of the ruling party.
He was finally arrested following the stripping and assaulting of a woman in Noakhali and the circulation of the video of the victim on the social media. Two cases were filed against him on charges of rape.
Noakhali superintendent of police Alamgir Hossain, however, said there are two groups-Samrat and Sumon. There are many cases against these two groups.
They have been arrested at different times, and released on bail.
The different criminal groups being discussed in recent times are not big ones. But police are taking action against these groups, the district police boss added.
* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.