DHAKA: Three suspected Islamist extremists were killed Tuesday in a raid by Bangladesh police as security was stepped up before Pope Francis's landmark visit to the Muslim-majority nation, officials said.
The suspects opened fire and threw bombs at Rapid Action Battalion police who cordoned off a house where they were hiding near the border with India, officials said.
"We called on them to surrender. But they responded by opening fire and throwing bombs. Moments later we heard loud explosions inside the house," Major Ashraf, an RAB officer, told AFP.
The officer said a search of the tin-roofed house in Chapai Nawabganj district in the northwest of the country was being completed.
RAB deputy head Colonel Anwar Latif Khan told AFP that "three people who were involved in Islamist militancy were killed" in the explosions.
RAB officials said the house was raided following a tip-off.
Pope Francis arrives in Bangladesh on Thursday for a three-day visit, the first by a Vatican leader in 31 years.
The visit will be dominated by the plight of more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled ethnic unrest in Myanmar and taken refuge in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh authorities have tightened security in the capital before the visit, with police patrolling around Christian churches and places where Francis will visit.
"There will be the highest security measures for the Pope," Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP.
"We have taken the measures in consultations with the Christian community here."
The Pope will meet a group of Rohingya refugees in Dhaka and conduct a mass at Suhrawardi Udyan, a colonial-era park in the capital, with at least 80,000 people expected to join.
Christians make up less than 0.5 percent of the Bangladesh population and the minority has in recent years faced attacks by Islamist radicals.
Since 2015 at least three Christians including two converts from Islam have been hacked to death in attacks blamed on the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
The group was also accused of wounding an Italian Catholic priest in the northern city of Dinajpur in November 2015.
The JMB has been blamed for a string of deadly attacks on foreigners, atheist bloggers, rights activists and other religious minorities such as Muslim Shiites and Ahmadis in recent years.
In July last year militants stormed a Dhaka cafe and massacred 22 hostages including 18 foreigners.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group but the government denied any role by the international militants.
Security forces have killed more than 70 alleged militants since the cafe attack.