Violence, vandalism in several districts

Despite a strong vigil by law enforcers for ensuring peaceful Durga Puja celebrations, zealots beat and stabbed a man to death at a temple in Noakhali as idols, houses and shops of the Hindu community came under attack in different places yesterday.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said those behind the incidents would be brought to book.

“No one will be spared … All the incidents will be investigated and the motive behind them will be revealed. Those trying to destabilise the situation will be punished,” he told The Daily Star last night.

Asked whether they had any clue about the culprit(s) behind Wednesday’s incident in Cumilla, that sparked the violence, he said, “Investigation is underway. We are hopeful about identifying them. Law enforcement agencies are also on alert to avert any untoward situation in future.”

The violence took place yesterday after processions were brought out following Juma prayers protesting the incident in Cumilla on Wednesday.

In Noakhali, attackers from a procession of several thousand people stormed into the Bijoya Durga Temple on College Road in Begumganj around 2:30pm. At one stage, the mob beat and stabbed Jatan Kumar Saha, 38, a member of the executive committee of the temple managing committee. He died in Noakhali Sadar Hospital later.

Shah Imran, additional superintendent of police, Begumganj circle in Noakhali, confirmed Jatan’s death and said the chaos started after Juma prayers.

With Jatan, five people have been killed as violence erupted in several places following reports that “the Holy Quran was demeaned” in Cumilla. Four of them were killed in clashes between a mob and law enforcers in Hajiganj of Chandpur.

Several processions joined by thousands of people attacked and vandalised at least 10 temples and over 50 businesses of the Hindu community on College Road, DB Road, Bank Road, Chowmuhoni, Chowmuhoni Dakkhin Bazar, Radha Madhab Temple and Ram Thakur Ashram in Noakhali, said Gowtam Saha, a Hindu Community leader of Begumganj.

His car was set ablaze inside the ashram, he said.

Additional members of police, Rab and BGB brought the situation under control around 5:00pm. At least 50 people, including cops, were injured as the law enforcers swung into action, said police sources.

In Chattogram, a group of zealots from a procession brought out in Andarkilla area started throwing brickbats targeting the Jemson Hall Puja Mandap in the district.

Witnesses said as the group threw brickbats at the temple housing the mandap and tried to vandalise it, police chased them away leading to a clash between the law enforcers and the zealots.

Police fired shots in the air and lobbed tear gas canisters to disperse the attackers, who had brought out the procession after Juma prayers, Bijoy Bashak, deputy commissioner of south division of Chattogram Metropolitan Police, told The Daily Star.

Police said they detained around 50 protesters from the spot.

In Sylhet, religious zealots went to Bhati-Bangla Durga Mandap in Hawladarpara area of the city, vandalised the entrance gate and five houses and three shops owned by Hindu people, locals and witnesses said.

Advocate Dilip Kumar, a resident of the area, said the attackers first tried to attack the Kali Temple and then attacked the Durga Mandap with bamboo sticks. They also attacked several houses of local Hindus and a few shops owned by Hindu people, he added.

The lawyer alleged that police were on the spot during the attack but they did not try to stop the attackers.

In Dhaka, five policemen were injured and at least five people were detained after a group of protesters clashed with on-duty police personnel at the Kakrail intersection yesterday following a protest procession which was brought out from Baitul Mukarram after Juma prayers.

Witnesses said a large number of people came out from the national mosque after the Juma prayers, chanting slogans. They proceeded towards Nightingale intersection. As police tried to intercept the procession at the Nightingale crossing, they threw brickbats at the law enforcers.

Police charged batons, and lobbed teargas shells triggering a chase-and-counter-chase between the protesters and the cops.

Traffic on the roads in the areas came to a complete halt during the clash.

Sajjadur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s (DMP’s) Ramna division, told The Daily Star that law enforcers charged batons and fired teargas shells to control the situation as the protesters threw brickbats at them.

Bayezidur Rahman, assistant commissioner, Ramna Zone, along with four other officials, were injured in the clash.

Earlier, security around the national mosque was beefed up and members of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and different intelligence agencies were deployed alongside the police to avert any untoward incident.

Meanwhile, police on Thursday night filed two cases over the attacks on a puja mandap and clash between zealots and law enforcers in Hajiganj, Chandpur against five to six identified and 2,000 unidentified people, said Abdur Rashid, officer-in-charge of Hajiganj Police Station, yesterday.

Bangladesh Puja Udjapan Parishad in a statement yesterday said communal forces attacked puja mandaps and houses in Chattogram, Noakhali and Kishoreganj.

It strongly condemned the incidents and demanded that the culprits be punished.

It also announced demonstration across the country today protesting the incidents. A demonstration will take place in Shahbagh intersection at 4:00pm, said the statement.

UNB adds: Condemning attacks on the Hindu community in the country’s different places, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader yesterday urged all to identify and hand over those who create rumour on social media to the law enforcement agencies.

He, in a statement, said the culprits behind the communal attacks would be brought to justice and the masterminds would be hunted down soon.

[Our correspondents in Noakhali, Ctg and Sylhet contributed to this report]