Sectarian violence on Shia minorities is an increasing phenomenon in Pakistan and a few other countries. So far, Bangladesh has been immune to such atrocities, as Shias and Sunnis had been living in harmony for decades in the country.
But with extremism becoming a global phenomenon, Bangladesh is also facing some of the heat. In the early hours of Saturday, October 24, an unprecedented bomb attack on a large Shia gathering in the capital Dhaka's Hussaini Dalan killed one 14-year-old boy and injured nearly 60 other people. Hussaini Dalan is the venue for religious gatherings of Shias held during the month of Muharram.
The first explosion was heard around 1:30am while the Shia community members were preparing for their traditional Taziah procession. After five minutes two more bombs went off consecutively. Two other unexploded devices were later found in the premises.
The police has announced a three-member probe committee to investigate the incident. According to a ruling party spokesman and the police, this attack is a ploy to destabilise the country and tarnish its image.
Bangladeshis turned to social media to express their outrage.
Local Facebook user Shah Jalal Sagar wrote:
“I am shocked by the senseless attack on a Shia Ashura gathering outside Old Dhaka, and offer my deepest condolences to the victims and their families. Bangladesh has a long tradition of religious tolerance and communal harmony.”
Journalist Mahfuz Sadique tweeted:
Dhaka's Shia Muslim leaders say Saturday attack part of global attacks on sect, not isolated. (Shia-Sunni schism unheard of in #Bangladesh.)
— Mahfuz Sadique (@MahfuzSadique) October 24, 2015
According to US-based SITE Intelligence Group, the militant Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the bombings on Hussaini Dalan.
Rita Katz, Director of SITE Intelligence Group tweeted:
1) #ISIS claim on the blast in #Dhaka:”Soldiers of the #Caliphate in #Banglades detonated several explosive devices” pic.twitter.com/53NJ0K5dYC
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) October 24, 2015
2) This is the 3rd operation claimed by #ISIS in #Bangladesh in less than a month. pic.twitter.com/0iPLHhldw2
— Rita Katz (@Rita_Katz) October 24, 2015
A Bengali website sympathetic to IS also published this message supporting this attack:
Breaking news: Bomb attack in the temple of Rafida Mushriqs:
In the grace of Allah the army of Khilafah has carried out a successful attack on Shia rafida mushriqs. Around a hundred people died or were injured when they exploded I.E.D.s (improvised explosive devices) and to Allah belongs all praise.
User Noor Uddin pointed out that Islam does not support killing of innocent people:
Whoever doing this it's not acceptable to us. Killing any innocent people is a big sin in Islam, if anyone do this he will never go to ‘Jannah’ its clearly mentioned in ‘Holy Quran’.
Tahsina Arshad Ahmed was angry at the silence of the common people:
There is no hiding from the fact that extremism is on rise in Bangladesh. What surprises me is that I have hardly heard of this act of terrorism from anyone today, except one friend. So, raising your voice against injustice towards Shia Muslims is not worth your time?
Ali Riaz wrote at Kathakata blog:
বাংলাদেশে বিরাজমান রাজনৈতিক পরিস্থিতি এবং গত কয়েক মাসে যেসব ঘটনা ঘটছে তার প্রেক্ষাপটেই এই হামলাকে বিবেচনা করতে হবে। রাজনৈতিক অনিশ্চয়তা, অস্থিরতা ও অস্থিতিশীলতা, আইন-শৃঙ্খলা পরিস্থিতির ক্রমাবনতি, মত প্রকাশের ওপরে নিয়ন্ত্রন, শক্তি প্রয়োগের ওপরে ক্ষমতাসীনদের অতিমাত্রায় নির্ভরতা, কার্যকর বিরোধী দলের অনুপস্থিতি, স্থানীয় জঙ্গী গোষ্ঠীগুলোর শক্তি সঞ্চয়, বিদেশি নাগরিকদের হত্যার পটভূমিকায় এখন সম্প্রদায়গত সহিংসতা পরিস্থিতিকে আরো জটিল করবে। সেই সব দিক বিবেচনা করেই আমার কাছে মনে হয়েছে দেশে সেক্টারিয়ান ভায়োলেন্স বা ধর্মীয় সম্প্রদায়গত সহিংসতার ক্ষেত্রে এক নতুন মাত্রা যোগ করার ঘোষণা হচ্ছে এই বোমাবাজি।
This attack should be seen in the light of the current political situation and the tragic attacks of the past few months. The factors at play are political uncertainty, instability and agitation, deteriorating law and order situation, control on freedom of speech, the misuse of power by the authorities, absence of a functioning political opposition, increasing of power of local extremist organisations and the recent killings of two foreigners. Analysing all these I think that this attack is the announcement of a new front – sectarian violence – another avenue of religious extremism.