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Posted Online on Tuesday 19, August 2005 23:55 IST

Series of bombings hit Bangladesh, two killed, 138 injured 

By Zafarul-Islam Khan

New Delhi, Aug 17 (The Milli Gazette): A series of bomb blasts hit almost all parts of Bangladesh, including several areas in the capital Dhaka today, Wednesday, killing at least two persons including a child and wounding at least 138 others according to the Indian news agency PTI's report from the Bangladeshi capital. It is clear the blasts were aimed at delivering a warning as they did not cause major damage.

The blasts, many of them targeting government buildings and courts, went off almost simultaneously between 11:00 to 11:30 AM Bangladesh local time, leading to a nationwide security alert and flight of people from affected areas.

Bombs exploded in Dhaka's diplomatic area, near Sheraton Hotel and outside Dhaka airport. The explosions, 400 in number according to the PTI report, rocked 58 of Bangladesh's 64 districts.

Although officials did not say what kind of bombs exploded today, Bangladesh private TV footage showed batteries strapped together in plastic bags.

Police in the city of Chittagong arrested two men two men carrying crude homemade bombs and firecrackers. Two other suspects were picked up elsewhere in the same city.

According Bangladesh private satellite TV, at least 45 people were arrested from different locations across the country.

State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfuzzaman Babar said the blasts appeared to be "pre-planned and well organised" but he did not blame any individual or group.

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, a banned organisation, reportedly said the blasts were its "third call" to establish rule of Islamic law in the country. "If ignored and (if) our people are arrested or persecuted, Jaamat-ul-Mujahideen will take the counter-action," leaflets found near blast sites said.

A police official in Barisal claimed that leaflets had been found there reading: "Bush and Blair be warned and get out of Muslim countries. Your days of ruling Muslim countries are over."

The leaflets reportedly warned the US and Britain against occupation of Muslim lands: "It is also to warn Bush and Blair to vacate Muslim countries, or to face Muslem upsurge."

Bangladesh had banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen along with Jagrata Moslem Janata Bangladesh last February. Bangladesh is world's third most populous Muslim country with 140 million people.

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen is led by the so-called "Bangla Bhai" who is on the run since his group was banned. His spiritual leader is said to be a Rajshahi University Professor Mohamamd Galib, who is now in jail on bombing charges.

Reports are coming only from foreign correspondents based in Dhaka. A search on the Net showed that with the exception of one, all Bangladeshi English-language newspaper websites blacked out reports of these unprecedented events even by Bangladeshi standards.

Political parties, including the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the main opposition Awami [Peoples] League, held separate protest rallies and vowed to resist extremism. Students of the Dhaka University staged protest on the campus.

Bangladesh has been hit by a number of bombings over the past two years, including one in which the British High Commission was injured on 21 May 2004. Early this year, militants killed former Bangladesh finance minister S.A.M.S. Kibria, sparking protests by opposition parties against violence in the region inspired by Islamists.

In another carnage last November, the former prime minister Sheikh Hasina herself was injured. None of these bomb explosions cases has been resolved to this day despite serious effort by the government, with the help of the FBI and Interpol.

A Time magazine report in October 2002 had claimed that Al-Qaeda and Taliban elements had relocated to Bangladesh after the American invasion.

India has consistently warned that Bangladesh is slowly turning into an Islamic terrorist base. India has its own axe to grind: to coerce Dhaka into taking military action against Indian dissidents and rebels sheltering on the Bangladeshi soil. India has succeeded in prompting Bhutan to drive away Indian rebels from its soil. Burma too has undertaken a similar exercise on a limited scale while Dhaka has consistently refused to play ball claiming that there are no Indian rebels on its soil.

India was quick to express strong concern at the explosions today. It expressed its sympathies for the victims and their families. India's external affairs ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said this evening: "The scale and coordination of these explosions countrywide raises a number of questions." He did not elaborate.

Violence at this level has raised questions about security in Bangladesh which is to host South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in three months time. Last February the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had opted out of the SAARC summit in Dhaka citing disturbances in Bangladesh and the royal takeover in Nepal, forcing Bangladesh to postpone the summit to November.

That Bangladesh has not taken today's bombings very seriously is clear from the fact that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia did not cancel her scheduled 5-day official visit to China which started today. 

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