Islamist militants hurled handmade bombs and used machetes to attack policemen guarding Bangladesh’s biggest Eid prayer service on Thursday, killing three people, nearly a week after two dozen hostages were slaughtered in the country’s worst terror attack.
Thursday’s attack occurred in Kishoreganj, about 90 km north of the capital of Dhaka, where some 300,000 people had gathered for what is the country’s largest congregation for Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramzan.
Bangladesh information minister Hasanul Haq Inu said the attackers targeted a police convoy patrolling the religious gathering. About nine police constables were injured. Thursday’s strike was probably the first time Islamist radicals have attacked Muslims on Eid.
At least five militants carried out the attack with small bombs and then set upon police with “sharp weapons”, said chief district administrator, Mohammad Azimuddin Biswas.
At least two policemen were killed, one of them stabbed to death. A third fatality was a woman - a Hindu – who was hit by a stray bullet. Two attackers were killed and three arrested, Reuters quoted officials as saying. It was not immediately clear what group they belonged to.
Thursday’s violence comes just days after the country suffered a deadly hostage crisis in which 22 were killed, including 20 captives. It was the worst in a recent wave of extremist attacks in Bangladesh targeting atheists, religious minorities and other so-called enemies of Islam.
Although the Islamic State claimed credit for the attack, the government has blamed home-grown militant groups of waging the violence in order to create political chaos in the country and undermine the secular government.
India on Thursday decided to send to Dhaka a four-member from the National Security Guard to “analyse and study” the attacks in the capital and Kishoreganj. The team will have bomb experts.
Police in Kishoreganj said Thursday’s attack was possibly aimed at a liberal cleric who has led a public campaign against Islamist radical.
Maulana Farid-uddin Masud, the chief cleric of the main mosque in Kishoreganj town, collected more than 100,000 signatures, including from leading Islamic scholars and intellectuals, against a recent wave of extremist attacks in the country targeting atheists, religious minorities.
Masud had described radical Islamists as pursuing “empty Islam” and said those perpetrating violence would “go to hell”.
At least one of the bombs exploded during the prayer at the sprawling Sholakia grounds, a large field where hundreds of thousands of people gathered almost every year since the early 19th century to pray on the occasion of Eid.
After the blast, police fired on the attackers and killed one of them, said Tofazzal Hossain, assistant superintendent of police in Kishoreganj. A second attacker died in hospital.
Police cordoned off the area and searched the devotees as well as nearby houses for suspects in hiding, said resident Shafiqul Islam, who was among those offering Eid prayers.
(With input from agencies)