Suicide bombers blast two Bangladeshi cities

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On Tuesday morning police in Bangladesh have blamed Islamic militants for what is believed to be the country's first suicide bombings. Up to ten people were killed and dozens of others injured in the two attacks. The attacks left at least 50 people wounded with many of them said to be in critical condition.

The government has accused the hardline Jamayetul Mujahideen, which wants to introduce strict Islamic law in the Muslim-majority democracy, of staging the attacks targeting the legal system. Bangladesh police have arrested six men, including a suicide squad member in different parts of the country, in the last two days.

"This is the first suicide attack in Bangladesh," stated Abdul Kaiyum, national police chief, after blasts in the south-eastern port cities of Chittagong and Gazipur, located near the capital Dhaka.

"These were powerful homemade bombs. It seems Jamayetul Mujahideen have stepped up their attacks after we arrested many of their members."

According to Chittagong officials, a pair of suicide bombers set off explosives at a police checkpoint outside the main court around 9 a.m. Two police officers and at least one of the bombers were killed in the attack.

Minutes later, a bomb exploded inside a court in the city of Gazipur, about 20 miles north of the capital, Dhaka. Three people were killed and many more injured, including lawyers and court staff. Various reports assume the explosion was the work of a suicide bomber.

The attacks came two days after security was tightened around embassies in Dhaka following a faxed message in the name of Al Qaeda in South Asia. The message also threatened to blow up the U.S. and British missions, as well as other European embassies.

"Jamayetul Mujahideen is using Islam's name to kill people. The government has taken a hard stand and will now take an even harder stand," said Prime Minister Khaleda Zia during a visit to the south.

According to Majedul Huq, Chittagong police commissioner, the blasts appeared to be the work of suicide bombers, who had explosives strapped to their bodies or hidden in bags.

"The bombers apparently turned more violent as we set up checkposts trying to reinforce security at court premises," Huq said.

A wave of bombings has rattled Bangladesh in recent months after fundamentalist groups led by Afghan war veterans launched a campaign for Islamic rule based on the Shariat. The militants have often targeted lawyers. On Aug. 17, there were nearly 400 simultaneous bombings across the country. Jamayetul Mujahideen, led by Afghan war veteran Shaikh Abdur Rahman, has been held responsible for the attacks. In October, militants attacked courts in three districts.

On Nov. 14, two judges were killed when bombs were thrown at their car, and in later weeks other lawyers and judges have received threats. The Daily Star reported that Jamayetul Mujahideen has threatened to kill three judges and blow up Mymensingh Press Club.

Police say a 2,000-strong "suicide squad" has been formed from members of Jamayetul Mujahideen and two other banned groups, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and Harkatul Jihad.

Bangladesh is the world's third-most-populous Muslim country after Indonesia and Pakistan.