October 24, 2015


[A social-media account believed to be operated by the Islamic State published a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors radical Islamic messages and propaganda.]


Security personnel near bloodstains after bombs in Dhaka, Bangladesh,
exploded Saturday during a procession to mark Ashura.
 CreditA.M. Ahad/Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Three bombs exploded early Saturday morning during a giant procession here commemorating the Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura, killing one person, wounding dozens more and unsettling a country that has little history of sectarian tension.

For weeks, Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, has been on edge over reports of unusual terrorist threats. After two foreigners were shot several weeks ago, some embassies warned their citizens against walking outside or attending large gatherings.

Saturday’s bombings were the first time Shiite Muslims had been targeted in Bangladesh, officials said. Before resuming the procession hours after the blasts, marchers stood mutely over flyspecked smears of blood where a boy had been fatally wounded.

The boy was identified as Sajjad Hossain Sanju, 16, said an officer at the Chawkbazar Police Station, Azizul Haque. Mr. Haque also said that 104 people were wounded by the explosions.

The procession, organizers said, has proceeded without any violence for 400 years.

Throngs of Sunnis traditionally join their Shiite neighbors, members of a tiny minority in Bangladesh, as they weave through the narrow streets of Old Dhaka for the Ashura commemoration.

Many were grappling with the idea that sectarian violence was possible here.

“Earlier, Pakistan was the country where the Shia were under attack,” said Syed Ibrahim Khalil Razavi, who walked barefoot near the head of a march in central Dhaka.

“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.”

A social-media account believed to be operated by the Islamic State published a statement claiming responsibility for the bombing, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors radical Islamic 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 the Islamic State has claimed through social-media statements in the past month, after the murders of two foreigners, an Italian man and a Japanese man.

For several years, domestic militants have carried out occasional assassinations of writers or activists critical of strict interpretations of Islam.

Then, late last month, several foreign governments reported that they had gathered intelligence suggesting that a terrorist group was planning an attack on foreigners in Bangladesh.

A banned domestic radical Islamist group, the Ansarullah Bangla Team, on Monday threatened to attack media outlets if they continued to employ unveiled women as reporters or news anchors.

Shafqat Munir, a security analyst with the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said the sectarian threat was new, and would have longstanding consequences.

“They are trying to brand anyone other than Sunnis as heretics and deviants,” he said. “They are trying to reorient the way Bangladeshis view Islam.”

Though the United States has built a counterterrorism partnership with Bangladesh, a rift has emerged over the past month after foreign governments, including the United States, warned of credible threats of a terrorist attack on foreigners by militants linked to the Islamic State.

In her public statements, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has dismissed the notion that international jihadi groups can function in Bangladesh and blamed violence on her domestic opposition, namely the pro-Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladeshi National Party.

Officials from Ms. Hasina’s party, the Awami League, were once again quick to dismiss the Islamic State claim on Saturday.

“There is no existence of Islamic State in Bangladesh,” Qamrul Islam, Bangladesh’s food minister, said Saturday. He said he believed that opposition parties were behind the bombings, saying that “those who failed to make any movement against the government, they now have a new formula.”

He dismissed the possibility that sectarian tension could rise.

“In Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in other countries, but in Bangladesh, we do not have this clash,” he said. “In Bangladesh, there is no clash.”

The attack on Saturday occurred early in the morning, when 40,000 people had gathered at the starting point of the first procession, organizers said.

Sunni and Shiite Muslims were indistinguishable in the crowd, said Mir Zulfikar Ali, president of the Hossaini Welfare Association, which helped coordinate the event.

“This is the old part of Dhaka,” he said. “The Sunnis were born, the Shia were born, they grew up over decades and they developed brotherly relations.”

Security camera footage shows a densely packed crowd surge away from the first explosion, only to encounter a second in the direction they were running.

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

In the hours that followed, Mr. Ali was heartened to receive dozens of condolence calls from Sunni neighbors, he said.

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

Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting.