Bangladesh ruling party, opposition trade blame for deadly arson attack on train

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Bangladesh ruling party, opposition trade blame for deadly arson attack on train Crime Scene Unit members inspect a passenger train that was set on fire during a countrywide strike called by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, ahead of the general election, in Dhaka, Dec. 19, 2023.
[Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters]

An arson attack on a train in Dhaka on Tuesday killed at least four people, including a mother and her child, during a transport strike called by the opposition to demand the government resign before next month’s general election, officials said.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has called numerous nationwide strikes and transportation blockades and held several protest rallies since late October, some of which descended into deadly violence.

The cause of the Monday night fire was not immediately clear, but police and the ruling Awami League accused the BNP  and vice versa, with neither side offering any evidence for their claims.

A train attendant detected the blaze, which was initially put out, said Anwar Hossain, a senior police official in Dhaka.

“While the fire was initially extinguished, it quickly reignited, spreading to nearby compartments,” he said.

Dhaka’s metropolitan police chief, Habibur Rahman, called the incident “an act of arson.”

Among the four victims was a 35-year-old woman, Nadira Akhter Pop, and her son, Yasin, who was three years old, railway police told BenarNews, adding that the remaining two victims had yet to be identified.

The fire service recovered the bodies from one of the train compartments, Parbat Ali, a railway official who witnessed the fire, told BenarNews.

“The mother was holding her baby to her chest,” he said.

The BNP called the transport strike to reiterate its months-long demand that the Sheikh Hasina administration make way for a neutral caretaker government ahead of the Jan. 7, 2024, general election to ensure it is carried out fairly.

The government refused to accede to the demand, responding by arresting more than 20,000 opposition members, including many senior BNP leaders.

‘Barbaric’ act

Meanwhile, railway authorities told BenarNews they are investigating why the train traveled about 9 miles after the fire was first spotted, before it stopped.

A.M. Saleh Uddin, a senior Bangladesh Railway official, said they were also looking into the reason the control room was not notified of the blaze as soon as it was detected.

Dhaka’s metropolitan police chief Rahman insisted without providing evidence that opposition leaders living abroad had ordered their local members to set fire to the train.

“The arson attack was carried out hours ahead of the [opposition’s] strikes and blockades,” he said, according to the state-run news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.

“We are trying to identify and arrest those who torched the train.”

BNP spokesman Ruhul Kabir Rizvi denied any party members were involved in the incident and condemned it as a “barbaric” act.

“Those who set the passenger train on fire at Tejgaon in Dhaka today and killed four passengers are undoubtedly inhuman,” he said in an online briefing.

Referring to the government, he alleged the involvement of “a special quarter” in the deadly fire.

“We demand a neutral judicial inquiry into the incident,” he said.


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