August 18, 2005

Bangladesh detains dozens over bombings

By Nizam Ahmed

DHAKA (Reuters) - Security forces detained dozens of
suspects in an intense hunt on Thursday for Islamic militants
who set off hundreds of crude bombs across Bangladesh, killing
two people and injuring more than 100.

Roughly 200 homemade bombs exploded on the streets, at
courts and near key government buildings in at least 60 cities
and towns across the Islamic nation shortly after Prime
Minister Begum Khaleda Zia left Dhaka on Wednesday on a
five-day visit to China.

Khaleda is cutting short her visit and is likely to return
on Friday night, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, a senior minister and
secretary general of ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party told a
news conference.

No one claimed responsibility for the blasts, which caused
little damage and appeared to be aimed at spreading panic.

But copies of a leaflet found at the bomb sites carried a
call by a banned Islamic group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, for
Islamic rule in Bangladesh.

Security was beefed up throughout the country on Thursday.
In Dhaka, an elite security force used sniffer dogs to search
for suspects and bombs in hotels and in diplomatic areas,
witnesses said.

Police detained nearly 100 people, said a senior police
officer who asked not to be named. Security officials said they
seized several live bombs from suspects and found others in
various places.


The Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen leaflets were found at most of the
blast sites. Besides calling for Islamic rule in Bangladesh,
they also warned the United States and Britain against
occupation of Muslim nations.

Police in eastern India said on Thursday they were
questioning two suspected Bangladeshi nationals arrested in
connection with distributing leaflets and raising money for an
organization which had al Qaeda as part of its name.

They were being distributed in some Muslim-dominated
neighborhoods in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata, previously
known as Calcutta, and which is across the border from

The arrests were not immediately linked to the bombings in
Bangladesh, however.

In a message from Beijing, Khaleda condemned the bombings
as a "heinous, cowardly, conspiratorial and well-planned act of

Sheikh Hasina of the main opposition party, the Awami
League, demanded an international investigation into the

"We demand so because the government failed to probe all
past bomb incidents in the country," she told reporters.

Bangladesh has a long history of political violence and
feuds, particularly between the parties of Khaleda and Hasina.


Authorities had steadfastly denied any suggestion of a rise
of Islamic militancy in the country, although the government
banned Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and another Islamic group, Jagrata
Muslim Janata Bangladesh, in February.

"The chilling scope of the bomb attacks that swept the
length and breadth of the country yesterday should have no one
in doubt as to the intent, organization, and capability of the
terrorists that were behind it," a leading English newspaper,
the Daily Star, said in an editorial.

About 90 percent of Bangladesh's 140 million people are
Muslim and the ruling coalition includes several Islamic
parties. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina's
Awami League are secular.

People are becoming worried Islamic militant groups are
gaining a foothold in impoverished Bangladesh, a democracy that
subscribes to moderate Islam.

Aftabul Islam, president of American Chamber of Commerce
and Industries in Bangladesh said: "So far we have been saying
that there is no room for Islamic extremists, but now we can
not hide the reality."

The unprecedented spate of bombings "exposed the weakness
of intelligence agencies and a lack of political will to combat
the vested group," Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, a retired army major
general, told Reuters.

Moulana Obaidul Haque, the imam of Dhaka's Baitul Mokarram
Mosque, said: "Islam does not accept such violence, rather the
bombers are working against the religion and the country."