Suspected Islamist militants lobbed homemade bombs and fired at policemen guarding hundreds of thousands of people at an Eid celebration in northern Bangladesh on Thursday, leaving at least two people dead and several wounded.
The attack occurred in Kishoreganj, about 90 km north of the capital of Dhaka, where some 200,000 people had gathered for what is the country’s largest congregation for Eid, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramzan.
The blast killed one constable while the other dead could be one of the attackers, police said, adding they were still searching for some of the attackers in a nearby school.
Bangladesh information minister said the attackers targeted a police convoy patrolling the religious gathering.
“Up to nine police constables have been injured in the attack,” Inu told Indian broadcaster CNN-News 18.
Indian news channel NDTV put the toll at four but that figure remains unconfirmed. Thursday’s strike is probably the first time Islamist radicals have attacked Muslims on Eid.
The 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.
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”.
“We believe he was the target,” Tofazzal Hossain, assistant superintendent of police in Kishoreganj, told Hindustan Times.
Masud has state security and he arrived at the Sholakia Eidgah grounds in Kishoreganj on Thursday on a helicopter. It wasn’t clear if he was at the mosque when the attack took place. At least one of the bombs exploded during the prayer at the sprawling Sholakia grounds, which is the largest open-air gathering for Eid-al-Fitr celebrations in the country.
After the blast, police fired on the attackers and killed one of them, Hossain told news agency Associated Press.
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.
Bangladesh newspaper Prothom Alo said Thursday’s explosion took place within one km of the Sholakia grounds at about 9:20am, an hour before the Eid prayers.
The Daily Star, one of Bangaldesh’s biggest newspaper, quoted sources in Kishoregunj as saying a group of six to seven militants led the attack on policemen when the latter were frisking people into the Eidgah grounds.
(with agency inputs)