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By Serajul Quadir

DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh army commandos have killed four Islamist militants in the northeastern city of Sylhet during a raid on a building where they were holed up amid local residents, a senior army official said on Monday.

The commandos surrounded the five-storey building on Thursday evening but had to evacuate its 78 residents before they could begin their operation on Saturday to flush out the militants, he told reporters.

The militants had a large arms store in the building so the operation was still going on, he added.

“We are about to end the operation and now we confirm that so far four militants were killed, including a female militant,” said Brigadier-General Fakhrul Ahsan.

“We have to carry out our remaining operation very carefully to avoid any risk,” he added

Ahsan said two of the four bodies found in the building were wearing suicide vests and surrounded by dangerous explosives.

The commandos had stormed the hideout, which belonged to a domestic Islamist group that has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, because the group was blamed for a cafe attack in July 2016 in which 22 people were killed, most of them foreigners.

On Saturday, six people, including two police officers, were killed and over 40 were wounded - including about a dozen police - in two bomb blasts near the militant hideout in the Sylhet building.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility "for a bombing on Bangladeshi forces in Sylhet", the SITE monitoring service said, citing a report on the militant group's news agency Amaq that appeared to refer to that incident.

The explosions came a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a security checkpoint near the country's main international airport in Dhaka, in an attack claimed by Islamic State.

Islamic State and al Qaeda have made competing claims over killings of foreigners, liberals and members of religious minorities in Bangladesh, a mostly Muslim country of 160 million people.

The government has consistently ruled out the presence of such groups, blaming domestic militants instead.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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