Vol. 5 Num 437 Thu. August 18, 2005  
Front Page

Sudden terror dims the city midday

Only half an hour into the explosions yesterday the entire city was seized by a whirling tumult of panic and speculations. Frightened citizens had no clue to what happened, but rumours were numerous. On first impressions, some of them took the booms to be tyre blowouts. Only later they learned the sounds were of a near-simultaneous chain bombing.

People started to make frantic phone calls to their kith and kin in Dhaka and outside, and were stunned by the knowledge that similar blasts also hit all the districts but one, Munshiganj.

"I phoned my parents at Comilla and said don't worry, I am okay, though there have been some blasts on the university campus," said a student of Dhaka University, adding, "But I was really surprised when my father said at least nine bombs had exploded there too."

Everywhere across the city, worried people gathered in front of television sets to know what was happening, the details and the developments in the country's widest-ever terrorist bombing.

A poor information outflow from the government stoked up the confusion and gave rise to a rumour that a curfew was imposed or under way in the city. Many people had phoned The Daily Star since the noon to verify if there was any truth behind the rumour.

As the news of the serial bomb blasts spread out, offices of many private companies and local and foreign development agencies, and schools and colleges in the capital and elsewhere closed hurriedly, with the authorities asking their staffs and students to leave immediately and stay at home.

Many a city thoroughfare took on a deserted look by the afternoon, with only a few vehicles braving it out on the streets. People remained indoor, fearing further attacks.

Security fears made US Chargé d'Affaires Judith Ann Chammas postpone her scheduled participation in a view exchange meeting on trade and economy organised by the Bangladesh Chamber of Industries at 1:00pm in its boardroom.

As two bombs exploded nearby, officials of the Washington-based National Democratic Institution (NDI) hurriedly wrapped up a programme it organised in Jatiya Press Club conference room and left the area under police protection.

A number of bombs also went off simultaneously around the city's Baridhara diplomatic zone, prompting an immediate security hike-up, with additional police and other law enforcers checking every vehicle entering, leaving or plying in the area.

Foreign missions and development agencies held emergency meetings and postponed all their programmes outside the capital. The missions also instructed their expatriate citizens here to stay at home.

Unicef-Dhaka Communications Officer Rezwanul Alam said, "We have postponed all the field trips outside Dhaka until further instructions from our higher authorities." Besides, Unicef-Dhaka officials have been instructed to move carefully in the city in the next few days.

Similar instructions have been given to the officials of Save the Children, Sweden, when it closed its office in the noon.

"We have cancelled all programmes and instructed our officials not to go out of Dhaka," said an official of the UNDP Dhaka office.

"All of a sudden, there was a huge bang," Rafiqul Islam, who witnessed the two bomb explosions near the Secretariat and Jatiya Press Club, described. "It's not safe anywhere anymore," he noted, adding, "The bombs were aimed at spreading panic among people, not to kill them."

Fakhrul Hasan, manager of an insurance company, was working in his 10th-floor office in a 20- storey building in Motijheel at the noon. He heard the news of the countrywide bomb hit on a television channel. Coming out of his office, he found the entire floor almost empty.

"People have become panicky, because this is the first time in the history of Bangladesh that hundreds of bombs have blasted across the country simultaneously," he told The Daily Star.

Fakhrul left the office and headed for home and advised his elder brother who works at another office in Motijheel to do the same as early as possible.

The situation was almost the same in most of the high-rises in Motijheel and the nearby commercial areas.

"I brought down the shutter of our shop immediately, upon hearing a boom coming from the press club area," said Siddique, an employee of a shop on Topkhana Road. At first he thought it was a tyre blast, but he closed the shop anyway, seeing the panicked faces all around.

Siddique re-opened the shop after half an hour. But many traders on the Bangabandhu Avenue and in the stadium market closed their shops in the afternoon, much earlier than their routine.

Many an official left their cars back in the office parking lots and returned home by bus, fearing obstacle or attack on the way. "I didn't dare to bring out my car from the parking lot, as I thought I would face processions and rallies on the road," said Ariful Islam, a businessman.

Transactions at banks and commercial houses were pretty thin after the lunch. People hesitated to go to banks in the afternoon, while the banks also advised their clients, who telephoned them, not take the risk of coming to deposit or withdraw money.

"Normally, we deposit our day's collection in the afternoon, but today the bank asked me not come with the cash," said Abdus Sattar, an employee of a Motijheel business house.

Akhtarul, a student of Engineering University Higher Secondary School in the capital, was waiting for his family vehicle as his parents asked him not to go home alone like other days.

"My mother sounded very anxious when she told me to stay in the school until our car came. She called my school as soon as she watched reports on TV channels about the blasts," Akhtarul, student of class IX, said.

Panic struck thousands of students and their parents soon after a string of blasts took place in Dhaka's different areas.

A large number of students of school and colleges skipped their ongoing midterm examinations yesterday fearing more blasts.

There are 24 government and over 100 private schools in the capital that have about one lakh students.

Authorities of different city schools told The Daily Star they may close the institutions if the situation does not improve. The schools include Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, Engineering University School, Udayan School, Ideal High School, Pogose School, Holy Cross Girls' High School and College, and Scholastica school.

Scholastica authorities have closed the school for today and asked the parents and guardians to contact them on Sunday morning before sending their children to school.

"If the situation improves, we'll not cancel the ongoing exams. But we may even closes the school if the situation deteriorates, because many students couldn't attend today's (Wednesday) exams," Rowana Hossain, principle of Viqarunnisa Noon School and College, told The Daily Star.

Those who missed yesterday's exams will have the chance to sit for them under special arrangements, she said.

Most of the parents expressed their concern over safety of their children. Many of them rushed to their children's schools to safely bring them back home.

"If the exam is not postponed, even then I'll not send my daughter to school; security of life is much more important than the exams," said Jesmin, a worried mother of a student of Viqarunnisa school.

Many other parents expressed the same concern.

Authorities of different schools and colleges said they received a huge number of calls from the worried parents.

Clockwise: Components of a bomb that exploded near Jatiya Press Club; a bomb left in a bag and leaflets of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh found on the Judge's Court premises in Nilphamari; an injured passer-by groans with pain near Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka; and five madrasa students held by police at Zia International Airport in connection with the blasts. PHOTO: STAR