The Islami Chhatra Shibir had been using Chittagong College and Government Hazi Mohammad Mohsin College as their arsenals for more than three decades, until police busted those in an overnight raid yesterday.
The Islamist party men were planning to unleash a terror in the port city using some of the firearms, including AK-22 rifles, single- and double-barrel rifles and foreign pistols, amid the ongoing political violence.
"They [Shibir men] have created a cantonment-like ambience inside the educational institutions," said Abdul Jalil Mandal, commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police, after raiding the Shibir dens.
Police recovered nine firearms and a large cache of ammunition and bomb-making materials from inside a hole near a staff dormitory of Chittagong College.
During the raid, cops detained 80 activists of Shibir, a pro-Jamaat-e-Islami student wing, and Abdul Wadud, finance secretary of Sramik Kalyan Federation, a pro-Jamaat labour organisation.
Locals in Chawkbazar, where the two colleges are located, said the area was comparatively remote and surrounded by hillocks. Taking this geographical advantage, Shibir men were using the government colleges as their hideouts and storing arms and ammunition there over the years.
Shibir men took control of the colleges in the mid-1980s.
"It is very difficult to enter the hilly areas by Hazi Mohammad Mohsin College," said a local, requesting not to be named.
In the two colleges, no organisational activities are allowed by the authorities except for those by Shibir, students said.
Nasir, an infamous Shibir cadre of the port city, started using the campus for criminal activities in the early 1990s when he built a den at two rooms of a hostel at Chittagong College.
From there, he used to control and give orders for carrying out operations at Mohsin College and Chittagong University, sources said.
Nasir, who is in jail since 1998 facing trial in several murder and arms cases, is believed to have a firm hold on the underground crime world in the port city still today.
From the jail, he maintains regular contacts with his accomplices by phone or other means with help from some corrupt prison officials and police, added the sources.
Informed about a possible "sabotage" by Shibir men, police raided the two colleges.
It came as part of the police investigation to track down those carrying out attacks across the country, said Jalil, the CMP commissioner.
At least 86 people have died, mostly in petrol bomb attacks, since the BNP-led 20-party alliance called the ongoing nonstop blockade on January 5.
The raid started around 2:00am at Suhrawardy Hall and Sher-e-Bangla Hall of Chittagong College, from where police picked up 72 alleged Shibir activists.
Later, they recovered an AK-22, a three-nought-three rifle, a double-shot and three single-shot rifles and three foreign pistols as well as five rocket flares, 64 bullets and 25 cartridges kept in the hole.
The arms and ammunition were wrapped in a banner that had the name of Jamaat leader and war crimes convict Delawar Hossain Sayedee written on it, said Tanvir Arafat, assistant deputy commissioner of the CMP, who led the drive.
Police then started searching different dorms of Mohsin College, including Portuguese Bhaban, Muslim Hall and Old Canteen, and its adjacent hilly areas in the morning. From there, they arrested eight alleged Shibir activists and Jamaat leader Wadud.
They also recovered five machetes, gunpowder, two sacks of bottles (often used to make petrol bombs) and bomb-making materials from the Old Canteen, now being used as a student hall.
A section of teachers and officials might have been helping the Shibir activists, said the CMP commissioner, adding that police would detain those whose names would come up in the investigation.
Nazmul Shakib, a Muslim Hall resident who was detained from the nearby jungle, said he was hiding after being informed of the raid. He protested his innocence, saying he knew nothing about the arms and ammunition.
In another development, police yesterday arrested four BNP and Jamaat-Shibir men at Sitakunda and three other people from different areas of the port city for their alleged involvement in making and supplying crude bombs.
Law enforcers recovered 700 grams of explosives from one detainee.
MORE CRUDE BOMBS
In the capital, police and Rab arrested two people and recovered 72 crude bombs and "a large amount" of bomb-making materials from the house of Jubo Dal leader Haji Newaz Ali at Lalbagh early yesterday.
The arrestees are Anis, 30, and Badsha, 40.
Moniruzzaman, officer-in-charge of Lalbagh Police Station, claimed the house was being used for making crude bombs. Once made, the bombs were supplied to different parts of the city for carrying out subversive activities.
Newaz is accused in several violence-related cases and is on the run, he added.
Another Rab team seized 18 homemade bombs from near Doyel Chattar of Dhaka University yesterday, said sources in the elite force.