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General
ISIS claims responsibility for serial bomb blasts in Bangladesh
24-10-2015

Dhaka (Bangladesh): Three bombs exploded early Saturday morning have killed at least one person and wounded dozens during a giant procession in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka honoring the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura. The blasts have further frayed nerves in a city already on edge over reports of extremist threats.

A social-media account believed to be operated by the Islamic State group issued a statement online claiming responsibility for the bombing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist messages and propaganda.

The statement said “soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh” were able to detonate explosives in a temple of “polytheists in the city of Dhaka, during the holding of their polytheist rituals.”

It was the third act of violence in Bangladesh that an Islamic State account has claimed in the past month, after the murders of two foreigners, an Italian man and a Japanese man.

The Ashura procession, organisers say, has proceeded uneventfully for 400 years, drawing throngs of Sunni Muslims who wind through the narrow streets of Old Dhaka alongside their Shia neighbours.

There is virtually no history of sectarian tension between Bangladesh’s Sunnis and its tiny minority of Shiite Muslims. Shiite Muslims who proceeded to march later in the day said they were still grappling with the notion that terrorists might attack Bangladeshis based on their sect.

“Earlier, Pakistan was the country where the Shias were under attack,” said Syed Ibrahim Khalil Razavi, who was walking barefoot down a major thoroughfare at the head of a procession that numbered in thousands.

“Now they target Shias in other countries, like Syria and Iraq,” he said. “I suppose we cannot rule out the possibility that this could happen in Bangladesh.” The attack came as a new jolt to a city already anxious over Islamist violence.

After years of relative dormancy, militant groups have become more visible over the past several years, killing Bangladeshi activists and writers who were openly critical of fundamentalist Islam, and releasing “hit lists” of others.

Late last month, several foreign governments reported that they had gathered intelligence suggesting that an international terrorist organisation was planning an attack on foreigners in Bangladesh. That announcement was followed, ominously, by the shootings of two foreigners, each of which was claimed by social media accounts linked to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Bangladeshi authorities have questioned that claim, saying that they had traced the crimes to activists from a banned pro-Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, and the opposition Bangladeshi National Party. On Saturday, the governing Awami League issued a statement blaming the Bangladeshi National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami for the attack in Dhaka.

“There is no existence of Islamic State in Bangladesh,” said Quamrul Islam, Bangladeshi’s food minister, who visited the site of the bombing on Saturday.

The Dhaka attack struck an event that is the highlight of the year for Dhaka’s Shiite minority, and which underlines its easy relationship with the Sunni majority.

“This is the old part of Dhaka,” said Mir Zulfikar Ali, president of the Hossaini Welfare Association, which helps to coordinate the event. “The Sunnis were born, the Shias were born, they grew up over decades and they developed brotherly relations.”

“Somebody from outside is trying to destroy this brotherly relation,” he added. “I do not know who it is.”

More than 40,000 people were gathered at the procession’s start when the first explosion occurred, followed by two others about 15 seconds apart. Security camera footage shows a densely packed crowd surging away from the first explosion, only to recoil from the second one in the direction they were running.

“People tried to go anywhere to save their lives, they were just running, it was complete panic,” Ali said.