By Sharif Khiam
At least four people were killed and dozens injured in southwest Bangladesh late Wednesday when law enforcement clashed with a mob protesting the alleged desecration of a Quran at a Hindu festival site, police said Thursday.
The violent clashes in the Muslim-majority country began in Chandpur district after a video post showed a copy of Quran inside a temporary structure in neighboring Cumilla district where the nine-day annual Durga Puja festival was being celebrated, authorities said.
Mohammad Harun Rashid, officer-in-charge at the police station in Haziganj, a sub-district of Chandpur, confirmed the deaths but did not say whether the victims were killed by police shots.
“Three of the injured who suffered bullet wounds have died at a local health facility, while another died at Cumilla Medical College Hospital where he was sent for better treatment,” he told BenarNews.
Cumilla Police Superintendent Faruk Ahmed confirmed that officers opened fire on the mob of several hundred people to control the situation.
“Police fired aimless shots and tear gas,” he told BenarNews.
After the post about the Quran was widely circulated, enraged mobs attacked dozens of Hindu temples, including in Cumilla and Chandpur districts, police said.
Chandpur officials banned gatherings indefinitely, Momena Akhter, the chief of the Haziganj civil administration, told BenarNews.
Security was stepped around the country as well, as the violence spread. Officials deployed Border Guard Bangladesh troops in 30 of the nation’s 64 districts.
“Responding to the demand of district administrators and direction from the Home Ministry, the BGB personnel have been deployed to ensure security for Durga Puja celebrations,” Lt. Col. Faizur Rahman said in a press statement released Thursday.
Meanwhile, after visiting the shelter from where the Quran was recovered, police detained a Muslim man named Fayez Uddin who allegedly posted the video of Islam’s holy book in the puja structure on Facebook, a Chittagong Range Police official told reporters.
“Police are interrogating the person. We suspect the incident was sabotage and we are now trying to determine why,” said Md. Anwar Hossain, deputy inspector general in the Chittagong Range Police.
He added that 43 people had been detained by police for questioning.
Anwarul Azim, chief of Cumilla’s Kotwali Model Police Station, said four cases had been filed as of Thursday night, including one under the Digital Security Act. Hazigang police’s Harun Rashid said two cases accuse six named and 2,000 unnamed people of attacking the temple and clashing with police.
Police and authorities said at least 31 people were arrested in Gazipur, Sylhet and Cox’s Bazar districts for their alleged involvement in violence in those places.
Hindu leaders said a man guarding a puja structure in Hajiganj was found dead but they could not confirm the cause of death.
‘None will be spared”
On Thursday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said those responsible for the mob attacks would be brought to justice.
“Those who carried out such incidents will definitely be identified as we did in the past,” Hasina said in a virtual address to Hindu community members at the Dhakeshwari National Temple.
“Those involved in the incident will definitely be tracked down with the use of the technology.”
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said law enforcers have identified most of those responsible for the Cumilla violence.
“None will be spared in the Cumilla incident. The culprits will be arrested soon,” he said.
Hindu leaders, meanwhile, said their community feared for its safety following the violence and attacks on Hindu temples.
“Houses of Hindus came under attack in some areas,” Manindra Kumar Nath of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council told BenarNews.
Palash Kanti Dey, executive secretary-general of the Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mohajote, said vandals had hit at least 48 puja structures in 18 districts over the last two days. The Durga Puja festival began on Monday and ends Friday.
Islamic political party Islami Oikya Jote urged the police not to arrest those who protested and instead take action against those responsible for the alleged Quran desecration.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), meanwhile, accused Hasina’s government of orchestrating the violence, saying it was a “planned attack” to divert people’s attention from its failure to maintain law and order.