A teenage boy has died and more than 100 people are injured after home-made bombs were thrown into a Shiite Muslim religious procession in Bangladesh.
Authorities in the capital Dhaka immediately arrested two suspects and recovered two unexploded bombs.
“Given the nature of attacks, I think this has been done to create chaos in the country. It is sabotage,” senior police official Asaduzzamn Mia said. “But it is clear that it was a planned attack.”
Witnesses said some 25,000 had started gathering at 2am for the five-mile march through Dhaka’s older quarter from Huseni Dalan, an important 17th-century Shiite centre of learning, to a mosque.
Of the five bombs thrown into the crowd, three exploded, sending thousands of panicked people fleeing in all directions.
Relatives cried out for their loved ones in the dark. Shoes and sandals littered the pavement, along with colourful flags and chains used by youths to beat themselves during the procession to show their grief for Ashoura, a 10-day religious ritual marking the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
One 15-year-old boy died from shrapnel wounds before reaching the hospital and was taken to the mortuary, where his brother sat wailing outside the front door.
Most of the injured were in stable condition at local hospitals or had been released within a few hours, said Dr Nazimun Nesa of the state-run Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Dhaka medicine shop owner Mohammed Sajib was at the procession with family and friends.
“Suddenly, the bombs exploded near me and we started running,” he said. “My hands are covered in blood. We took many to the hospitals.”
Bangladesh has been rocked by a series of attacks claimed by Islamist extremists this year, including the murder of four atheist bloggers and, more recently, the killing of two foreigners – an Italian aid worker and a Japanese agricultural worker.
The Islamic State extremist Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for killing the foreigners, though the government immediately dismissed the claims and said there was no evidence of the group having a presence in Bangladesh.
Shiites are a minority in the country but they are generally not discriminated against, and attacks against them are virtually unheard of.
“This is unprecedented. We have been observing this for ages but we never faced anything like this,” Feroz Hossain, curator of the Huseni Dalan building, told reporters.
After the attacks, the participants said they were determined to carry on with the ritual.
“We are not afraid,” Rashed Hossain said on the street near the Huseni Dalan, where thousands of others were still gathered at noon. “We are ready to move ahead with the procession.”
Meanwhile, police experts were examining the blast scene, collecting evidence and planning to study closed-circuit TV camera footage from in and around the shrine, said Colonel Ziaul Ahsan of the special anti-crime agency Rapid Action Battalion.