Bangladesh Communal Violence: Suspect Admits Planting Quran at Hindu Site, Police Say

Subel Rai Bhandari and Sharif Khiam
Kathmandu and Dhaka
Bangladesh Communal Violence: Suspect Admits Planting Quran at Hindu Site, Police Say Police officers escort Ikbal Hossain (wearing a helmet) to the Cumilla district police office for interrogation, Oct. 22, 2021.

A prime suspect arrested overnight in connection with deadly anti-Hindu riots last week has confessed to planting a Quran at a Hindu festival site, an act that helped provoke Bangladesh’s worst religious violence in decades, officials said Friday.

Police arrested Ikbal Hossain, 35, on Thursday night from Cox’s Bazar, about 290 kilometers (180 miles) from Cumilla, the district where the violence began on Oct. 13 after an online video post showed the Quran at the Hindu site.

“[I]n primary interrogation [Ikbal] admitted that he placed the Quran at the Puja site,” two senior police officers told BenarNews on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case. Puja refers to an annual nine-day Hindu festival, Durga Puja.

But M. Tanvir Ahmed, Cumilla Police’s additional superintendent, all but acknowledged that Ikbal said he had placed the Quran at the puja venue.

“We are trying to find out why he placed the Quran at the Puja venue. We need to know who hired him to do this, if anyone did,” Tanvir told BenarNews without giving additional details.

He said the suspect was brought to Cumilla from Cox’s Bazar around noon on Friday, after which police began to interrogate him.

Last week’s alleged desecration of the Quran – said to have been placed at the feet of a statue at a puja site – enraged Muslims in Cumilla, who attacked Hindus, their homes, temples and puja venues.

The violence spread to districts near Cumilla on the same day, and around the Muslim-majority country over the next few days.

Police said they identified Iqbal, a resident of Cumilla, from a 17-minute long edited video of CCTV footage from around the puja site where the Quran had been placed.

In the footage, a man was seen picking up a Quran from a mosque near the Darogabari area of Cumilla city, police said. He was then seen entering the puja site with the Quran and leaving without it, police added.

After seeing the video footage Ikbal’s mother, Amina Begum, confirmed that the man seen with the Quran was her son, Cumilla Police’s Tanvir said.

According to his family members, Ikbal was addicted to drugs, Tanvir said.

However, Nirmal Paul, a puja organizer in Cumilla, was not inclined to believe that.

“Some people are saying that Ikbal is mentally sick. But I think committing such a horrible act and running away is something a mentally ill person cannot possibly do,” he told Benar News on Thursday.


Ikbal Hossain is seen in a police station in Cox’s Bazar after his arrest, Oct. 21, 2021. [Handout Cox’s Bazar Police]

‘Deadliest spate of sectarian violence’

Meanwhile, an elderly Hindu man who sustained injuries during the attack in Cumilla on the first day of the violence died on Friday at a Dhaka hospital, taking the death toll from the clashes to eight.

The man identified as Dilip Das, 75, was seriously injured after being hit on the head with a brick while inside a puja venue on Oct. 13, police sub-inspector Abdul Khalek told BenarNews.

Bangladesh police said Friday they have arrested 584 people in connection with the religious violence.

Hindus, who make up about 10 percent of Bangladesh’s 165 million population, are often the target of attacks.

According to Ain-O-Salish Kendra, a Bangladeshi human rights group, there were at least 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community between January 2013 and September this year.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called last week’s incidents “the deadliest spate of sectarian violence in Bangladesh in years.”

“The authorities should take immediate steps to protect Hindu religious minorities and prosecute those responsible, including members of law enforcement agencies, for unlawful violence,” HRW said in a statement Thursday night. 

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed is facing a critical moment to show in words and action that she is serious about her party’s commitments to democracy and human rights,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in the statement.

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