Terror returns to Bangladesh on Eid: Four, including 3 cops, killed; one terrorist captured alive

Radical Islamists hurled crude bombs and engaged in a shootout with police in Bangladesh on Thursday that killed three people, including two policemen, and a terrorist at the country's biggest Eid gathering nearly a week after the deadly attack on a Dhaka cafe that left 22 people dead. Bombs exploded near an Eid prayer gathering in Sholakia in northern Kishoreganj district where at least 200,000 people had gathered, police said.

Police also said that one attacker has been captured alive and the anti-terror operation is almost over.

Police said one constable was dead and at least 13 others were injured. A second policeman later succumbed to his wounds on way to hospital in neighbouring Mymensingh. A woman was also killed during the shootout while she was witnessing the incident from the window of her house near the scene, the Prothom Alo newspaper reported.

One suspected attacker was also killed in the exchange of fire with police at the blast site as roads in the area were cordoned off. "One suspect has been held and about 13 injured," said Abu Sayem, additional superintendent of police in Kishoreganj.

Another senior officer said that six of his men had been injured in the attack and one of the attackers had been shot dead, while home-made machetes had been recovered from the scene. "They threw hand bombs at us and we responded with gunfire. A gunfight ensued and they fired back and threw more hand bombs," Tofazzal Hosain, the northern district's deputy police chief, told AFP.

Azimuddin Biswas, the district administrator, told AFP the attack had taken place on the premises of a nearby school and not on the actual prayer ground. "The congregation was not affected by the clashes," he said.

The gathering in Kishoreganj is known as the Sholakia Eid prayers and is by far the biggest such congregation in Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim country that is home to around 160 million people. While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, it came less than a week after Islamists killed 20 hostages and two policemen in an overnight siege at a Western-style cafe in Dhaka. All the victims, including 18 foreigners, were hacked to death with machetes.

Bangladesh has been on a heightened state of alert in the wake of the killings in Dhaka last Friday night and many Eid services included pleas from religious leaders for an end to the violence.

Local reports said six to seven people led the attack with sharp weapons on policemen when they were frisking people entering the Eidgah ground. Kishoreganj ASP Obaidul Hasan said the blasts spread panic among thousands who were beginning to gather near the ground, but the prayers were not disrupted, bdnews24.com reported.

"That was probably a crude bomb. The facts are still unclear," he said. The incident comes close on the heels of last week's deadly attacks in Dhaka which killed over 22 people mostly foreigners including a 19-year-old Indian girl.

The Islamic State terror group on Thursday issued a new chilling video warning the Bangladesh government of more attacks in the country and across the world until Shariah law is established globally, saying last week's gruesome attack here was just "a glimpse". The video message believed to be issued from Raqqa, the stronghold of the terror group in strife-torn Syria was released on YouTube.

Islamist gunmen stormed a popular restaurant in Dhaka's posh diplomatic enclave late on Friday killing 22 people, most of them foreigners from Italy, Japan, India and the US in an attack claimed by the Islamic State.

The Islamic State video has gone viral on social media among Bangladeshis still recovering from the shock of the brutal slaughter of 20 hostages and two police officers in Dhaka. Police said two suspected attackers have been detained as a massive manhunt was underway to nab the militants in the neighbourhood with mobilisation of extra forces.

 Terror returns to Bangladesh on Eid: Four, including 3 cops, killed; one terrorist captured alive

A woman prays at during Eid-ul-fitr in Dhaka on Thursday. AFP

Sheikh Hasina condemns attacks

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at an Eid reception at her residence said, "Those who are carrying out assaults even in Eid congregations, are enemies of Islam and humanity". She urged parents and school authorities to report to police if their sons or students had gone missing since the Dhaka attack was carried out by youths who went missing several months ago.

"We will you to track them down using modern technology, if required they will be given treatment in specialised facilities," she said.

Meanwhile the imam of the Eid congregation which was attacked today Maulana Fariduddin Massoud, who is said to have earned the militants' wrath by spearheading a massive anti-Islamist campaign with Islamic scholars and imams, appealed for a "social resistance" against the militants. "Their (militants) aim is to create panic among the people to weaken the natural social resistance. But I call upon the people not to panic which will only benefit the militants' goal and instead wage a social resistance against the extremists," he said.

Bangladesh's Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu again portrayed the latest attack as being designed to topple Sheikh Hasina. "We don't know which group they belong to but they are suspected members of extremist terrorist group. They are against the normal religious practices of the country," he told AFP.

"They are anti-Islam, anti-religion and anti-government. They have a political as well as a religious agenda." Critics have said Hasina's administration is in in denial about the nature of the threat posed by extremists and accuse her of trying to exploit the attacks to demonise her domestic political opponents.

Last month authorities launched a crackdown on local jihadists, arresting more than 11,000 people but critics allege the arrests were arbitrary or designed to silence political opponents. Bangladesh's main Islamist party has been banned from contesting polls and most of its leaders have been arrested or else executed after recent trials over their role in the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Spate of violence

The violence comes just days after a deadly hostage crisis in which 28 people were killed, including 20 hostages, two police and six of the attackers. Most of the hostages slain during the Friday night attack on a Dhaka restaurant were foreign — from Italy, Japan and India — raising international concerns about escalating extremist violence in Bangladesh.

The ongoing spate of attacks begun in 2013 has generally targeted atheists, religious minorities and others considered by militants to be "enemies of Islam." There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday's attack, but the government insisted it was carried out by domestic militants fighting to destabilize Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government and establish Islamic rule in the Muslim-majority nation.

"It is a totally political move. They are out to destabilize the government. It is a political attack to oust and topple the secular government of Sheikh Hasina," Inu said. Though many past attacks, including the hostage-taking, have been claimed by the Islamic State group, Hasina's government has dismissed those claims as opportunistic, and says none of the attacks have been orchestrated from abroad.

People gathered to pray on the eve of Eid in Dhaka. AFP

People gathered to pray on the eve of Eid in Dhaka. AFP

Instead, Hasina's government has accused her political opponents of backing the militant agenda in Bangladesh, an allegation the opposition parties vehemently deny. On Wednesday, the extremist Sunni Muslim group released a video warning of more attacks in Bangladesh, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi activity online.

Many Bangladeshis have said they were horrified by the attacks, but determined to stand against them. "The rise of such a minuscule militancy can be rooted out very soon," said Dhaka resident Mohammad Nizam Uddin Jitu. after participating in Eid prayers on Thursday at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque in the capital. "The people of this country are united," he said. "The people of this country are peace loving. The people of this country never support militancy."

Tears and prayers

"Allah, protect our country ... and protect our children from the evils of terrorism," Mohammad Sadequl Islam, the local imam, told a gathering of around 5,000 devotees at Dhaka's Mahakhali neighbourhood. Many of those who attended services in Dhaka could be seen weeping as clerics led prayers for a more peaceful and prosperous Bangladesh.

The biggest service in the capital was at the National Eidgah Maidan where more than 50,000 people, including Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid, took part in prayers under a giant canopy. Police brought in scanners and sniffer dogs to check for bombs as crowds were forced to wait for up to an hour before being cleared to enter the grounds where the service was held. No one was allowed to bring in bags.

Bangladesh has been reeling from a growing wave of attacks since the turn of the year, many of which have been claimed by the self-styled Islamic State group or an offshoot of the Al-Qaeda network. However Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has consistently denied international jihadist networks have gained a foothold and have said the weekend attack in Dhaka was carried out by a local Islamist group.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 07, 2016 14:33:24 IST