/ 17 August 2005

Two killed as 350 bombs explode in Bangladesh

About 350 small bombs exploded within an hour of each other across Bangladesh on Wednesday, killing two people and injuring more than 100 in an unprecedented attack initially linked to banned Islamic extremists.

The bombs, which killed a man and a 10-year-old boy, exploded in almost all of Bangladesh’s 64 towns and cities — including the capital, Dhaka — between 10.30am and 11.30am local time, the home ministry said in a statement.

”At all the blast scenes, leaflets bearing the name of the recently banned Jamayetul Mujahedin group were found,” it said.

The leaflets called for the implementation of strict Islamic law.

Foreign ministry director Zahirul Haque said 45 people have been arrested over the attack.

”A total of 45 suspects have been arrested, about 350 bombs exploded and the number of injured stands at more than 100,” he said.

Police said they are probing the possible involvement of Jamayetul Mujahedin.

The explosions, including 15 in Dhaka and 20 in the south-eastern port of Chittagong, targeted local administrative offices, courts, bus and railway stations. The home ministry appealed for calm.

”After analysing all the incidents, it is assumed that the main aim of the explosions was to create panic and to create a destabilised situation in the country,” the statement said.

Abdul Kaiyum, Bangladesh’s Inspector General of Police, said: ”These were small, home-made bombs designed to create panic.”

Most of those hurt suffered minor injuries, police said, adding that they had no reports of any serious or life-threatening injuries.

Mazeedul Haq, Chittagong’s police commissioner, said the leaflets bore the name of the Jamayetul Mujahedin and read: ”It is time to implement Islamic law in Bangladesh. There is no future with man-made law.”

Jamayetul Mujahedin and another hard-line group, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, were banned in February for alleged links to a wave of bombings of non-governmental groups, holy shrines and other targets.

A police official in Barisal said leaflets had been found there reading: ”Bush and Blair, be warned and get out of Muslim countries. Your days of ruling Muslim countries are over.”

The bombings began 90 minutes after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left Dhaka for China, where she is scheduled to spend five days on a trade-focused visit.

Minister of Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar said security has been stepped up across the country.

The young boy killed suffered fatal injuries when he picked up one of the devices in the central town of Savar, said local police chief Tariq Kamal.

”The boy was seriously injured and died after being taken to hospital,” he said.

In the north-western town of Chapai Nawabganj, a passer-by was also killed.

”One person called Robiul Islam was seriously injured when one of the bombs exploded. He died soon after arriving at the hospital,” said a local police official.

Fifteen people were arrested, including one person in Dhaka who had blast injuries to his hand and three men in the south-eastern town of Cox’s Bazar suspected of carrying bombs, police said.

Bangladesh, with a population of 140-million, is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation.

Its four-party Islamist-allied coalition government has repeatedly rejected claims that it could have a problem with Islamic extremists.

In May, neighbouring India said it was concerned at what it called the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh.

In banning the two groups in February, the government said it believed they were ”involved in criminal activities to achieve their goals”.

The second group, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, was criticised by police last year for ”over-enthusiasm” after villagers complained it pressured women to wear burkas and men to grow beards in accordance with strict Islamic codes.

The country has suffered previous, often deadly, blasts targeting opposition rallies and religious shrines.

Five people, including a former finance minister, died in a grenade attack on an opposition Awami League rally in January. The party staged a series of national strikes in protest. — Sapa-AFP