Dhaka, Aug. 17: A wave of fear struck Bangladesh this morning as over 500 crude bombs exploded almost simultaneously across towns and cities, killing two persons and injuring about 140.
The bombs targeted government offices, courts, press clubs and universities in Dhaka and 63 of the country’s 64 district headquarters, sparing only Munshiganj.
Leaflets left at blast sites, bearing the name of banned Islamist outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, asked the government and Parliament to establish Islamic rule in Bangladesh.
“It is time to implement Islamic law' there is no future with man-made law,” they said. “We are warning Bush and Blair to abandon occupation of Muslim countries. NGOs are warned to stop anti-Islamic activities' else they will be completely uprooted.”
The 11-11.30 am blasts, which took place just hours after Prime Minister Khaleda Zia left for China, almost paralysed the nation.
Work stopped at government and private offices with people rushing back home. Cars and rickshaws went off the roads in most cities. The blasts killed a rickshaw-puller in the western Chapainawabganj town and a child in Savar.
A man who has a shop near Dhaka’s National Press Club said a young man with a cap on his head came and left a small paper bag. “It exploded minutes after he left,” he said. “I did not suspect that there was a bomb inside the bag.”
Security was tightened at key installations and additional forces deployed across the country by a government that seemed surprised by the timing of the attack.
Home minister Lutfuzzaman Babar said the authorities had been tipped off about possible bomb attacks on August 14, 15 and 16. “Nothing happened during that period,” he told reporters. “We had no information about August 17.”
At every blast site, the police found pairs of batteries used as detonator. The bombs, they said, were locally made but not powerful.
About 50 people, including a few madarsa students, were arrested from various parts of the country.
In Dhaka, bombs went off on the premises of the Judge Court and the Supreme Court, near the press club, the airport and Sheraton Hotel, at Uttara and Gulshan townships and the Palasi area.
“We heard the blast from the first floor of the Judge Court,” said lawyer Abdul Matin. “Then there was another blast from the other side.”
A bomb exploded from inside a vendor’s van at the Chittagong press club.
“Bombs exploded in front of the Chittagong press club, Shah Amanat bridge, EPZ area, Bahaddarhat bus terminal, New Market, Darul Fazal Market, near Port Bhaban, Muradpur, Halishahar court building, near CMM court, registry office at court building, Kazir Dewri crossing, Lalkhan Bazar, Agrabad and Dewanhat crossing,” said local journalist Osman Gani Mansur. “The city is in panic.”
The Opposition has called a strike on Saturday in protest against the blasts.
Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, led by the fugitive “Bangla Bhai”, was banned in February with the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh amid a spate in political violence in the country.
Bengal and north-eastern states have stepped up border vigil.
Police recovered a dozen bombs, said to be similar to those used in Bangladesh, from a house near Bongaon, 4 km from the border.