Shiite and Sunni Muslims take part in the Ashura gathering in Dhaka on Oct. 24, hours after blasts killed one person and injured 62. (Photo by Mahmud Hossain Opu)
Police in Bangladesh have arrested four people in connection with an attack on a major Shiite gathering in Dhaka on Oct. 24, which killed one person and wounded dozens more.
At least five grenades exploded as hundreds of Shiites gathered in front of Huseni Dalan, a major Shiite shrine in Old Dhaka, for the start of Ashura, which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
A 14-year-old boy was killed, while 62 people were wounded, according to Dr. Abdul Gani, an official at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
For years Shiites have lived peacefully in Sunni-majority Bangladesh and up until the weekend were not targeted in sectarian attacks.
Police say they detained four men for questioning on Oct 25.
"We detained four people for questioning and we are trying to find out the motive and perpetrators of the attack," said Azizul Haque, chief of Chowkbazar police station, which covers the bombed shrine.
The Sunni jihadist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the U.K.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist messages and propaganda online.
"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," the Islamic State group reportedly said in a statement.
Bangladesh has seen an alarming rise in religiously motivated attacks this year.
The Islamic State group has also claimed responsibility for the recent killings of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese man, while Ansarullah Bangla Team, a banned militant group allegedly linked to al-Qaeda, claimed credit for slaying four secular bloggers.
Bangladeshi officials dismissed the latest claim from the Islamic State group, while the ruling Awami League party blamed the shrine attack on the opposition pro-Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami group and its ally, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Both groups denied the accusation.
"There are no (Islamic State group) activities in the country and this attack was not carried out by militants. This was a planned attack to destabilize Bangladesh," A.K.M. Shahidul Haque, inspector general of police, told reporters after visiting the spot on Oct 24.
Religious leaders have condemned the attack and called for justice.
"For 400 years we have been living peacefully and observing religious traditions with mutual respect, and have never seen such an attack," said Syed Baker Reza, a Shiite leader.
"Shias are being attacked in different parts of the world, so it has taken a toll on us as well. We want a quick probe and punishment for the attackers," he added.
Mufti Ainul Islam, head imam of the Sunni Hizbul Bahar Jame mosque in Dhaka, also condemned the attack.
"There is a worrying trend globally to use Islam for terrorism and political reasons. Islam is a religion of peace but sadly it's being misinterpreted," he said. "These so-called soldiers of Islam are in fact enemies of Islam, and they must be stopped and punished."
The attack was part of a conspiracy, according to Father Albert Thomas Rozario, secretary of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.
"This is a part of a national and international conspiracy to portray Bangladesh as an Islamic militant state globally. The government must prove that it is committed to eradicating militancy with public support, so it needs to ensure a quick probe and justice," he said.