Blast at Shahjalal shrine injures British HC, kills 2 |
Sylhet DC, Bar president among 70 hurt: 4 BCL men held: BDR deployed
Staff Correspondent, Sylhet
Two people were killed and British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury was among about 70 injured in a powerful bomb blast, second in five months, at Hazrat Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet yesterday.
The Bangladesh-born envoy, barely 18 days into his new assignment, suffered minor leg injuries as the bomb exploded on impact bouncing off his belly to the tiled floor of the shrine after Friday prayers. A medical bulletin of the Inter-Services Public Relations says Choudhury is out of danger.
The 700-year-old shrine, 278km northeast of the capital, jolted with the force of the blast that came at about 1:40pm with a big bang, sending worshippers running for cover.
Witnesses saw scores of the injured writhing in pain on the ground strewn with slippers, shoes, prayer caps and blood-stained shirts. At least 10 people were seriously injured.
The emergency ward and corridors of the state-run MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital filled with the injured -- legs bandaged. Two worshippers in white clothes were sitting blood-smeared in hospital for treatment.
"I saw blood rolling on the ground. It was a scene of horror. People ran to safety barefoot," said a devotee, who went to the shrine mosque for prayers.
Jubair Ahmed Rubel, son of Lilafar Ali of Jharnarpar, was among the dead. The 26-year-old was a student of master's in philosophy at Madan Mohan College, but the other dead could not be identified immediately.
Sylhet Deputy Commissioner Abul Hossain and the envoy's two bodyguards suffered injuries in the explosion that blasted off about 1 square feet of floor tiles and flung splinters as far as 20 feet. Thick smoke covered the area.
Later in the day, an army helicopter flew the envoy, deputy commissioner and a policeman to the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka for better treatment.
Choudhury, one of the highest-ranking Muslims in the British Foreign Office, told AFP from the Sylhet hospital, where he was first treated: "The bomb hit my stomach after it was hurled, but did not explode (then)."
"It fell on the ground near the foot of the district chief and then exploded with a big bang."
"I can't say anything more or how it happened," Choudhury told The Daily Star. "I feel pain in my legs."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a statement issued from London said: "I am deeply shocked by the news of this bomb and I extend my sympathies to all the victims and their families.
"Details of exactly what happened and the nature of the injuries are not clear," he said adding, "We are grateful for the support we are receiving from the Bangladeshi authorities."
Choudhury's appointment in Dhaka is notable as he is the first Briton from an ethnic minority background to hold such a senior diplomatic post, BBC Online says.
Choudhury, 44, went to Sylhet, four days after his maiden press conference in Dhaka, to see his hometown on a well-publicised visit.
He offered Friday prayers at the shrine mosque. On his way out, flanked by dignitaries, to a curious crowd waiting to glimpse the envoy, Choudhury came under attack.
"The high commissioner and I were about to get out of the shrine," said Abdul Hai Khan, president of the District Bar Association, who was also injured in the attack.
"A number of people greeted the envoy and shook hands with him. A beggar approached Choudhury for money. The envoy asked me to give him (beggar) Tk 100. As I was giving the money, I heard a loud sound and found dozens groaning in pain on the ground."
Those who attended Friday prayers alleged security lapse during the visit of the diplomat.
Police arrested four leaders of main opposition Awami League's student chapter linking them to the attack: Habibur Rahman Selim, Bangladesh Chhatra League city unit convenor, Alam Khan Mukti, central committee leader, and Abdul Qaiyum and Khokon, local leaders, were arrested in Dargah Gate area.
Law enforcers have ringed the shrine where another bomb attack left five dead on January 12.
Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) and armed police were deployed to the shrine and Osmani Medical College Hospital and security was tightened in and around the divisional headquarters.
A local resident working for a private company said most people, frightened by the attack, remained indoors.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office of UK, issuing the latest travel advice, asked Britons in Bangladesh to be vigilant in public places and avoid large gatherings.
Talking to The Daily Star last night, State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar said Inspector General of Police Shahudul Haque and other high officials were heading for Sylhet and an investigation would follow.
Local leaders of the ruling four-party alliance hold a press conference at Hamadan Restaurant in Sylhet city at 2:00pm today.
AFP adds: Choudhury, who emigrated to Britain in 1970, is originally from Sunamganj.
His educational background was in engineering, but he was put on a diplomatic fast track as part of the government's efforts to make the Foreign Office reflect the multi-cultural nature of Britain.
He was appointed to the Ministry of Defence as assistant director in 1995 and moved to the Cabinet Office in 2000 as a director. He then went on to the Foreign Office in preparation for his move to Bangladesh.
Britain's estimated two million Muslims, most of whom trace their origins to South Asia, welcomed Choudhury's appointment.
The head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, said at the time: "We had been expecting such an appointment and are pleased that the process of involving British Muslims in the foreign policy mechanism has begun."
Choudhury is married with one son and one daughter. His visit to Sylhet was his fourth visit to the region where he spent his childhood and his first since arriving in Bangladesh to take up his post.
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