Acts of inter-communal violence between the Sunni majority and Shiite majority are rare in Bangladesh, where the two communities have co-existed in relative peace for centuries, locals say.
But last week’s deadly shooting at a Shiite mosque in the northern town of Bogra – the second attack on Shiites in the country in less than five weeks – has unsettled Bangladeshis, who suspect that foreigners had a hand in it.
“We are really saddened by the attack in Bogra …. There is no Shiite-Sunni division in Bangladesh. The Shiites and the Sunnis have been living here peacefully for around 500 years,” Nazma Begum, a professor at Dhaka University who specializes on Shiites in South Asia, told BenarNews.
“The attacks on the Shiites are political; these may be linked to [an] international network. The people of Bangladesh have no motivation for carrying out attacks on the Shiites,” she said, adding, “Maybe some local militant groups were instigated by the foreign networks.”
According to the Associated Press, a local affiliate of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed it carried out the shooting at the Shiite mosque in Bogra, which killed an elderly mosque official, Moazzem Hossain, and injured three others during evening prayer services on Thursday.
“No local people have carried out the attack on the Shiites; they came from outside. The people here are horrified and shocked. Islam does not allow anyone to kill people,” Mofizur Rahman, a Sunni resident of Shibganj, told BenarNews.
“We, the local people, will save our Shiite brothers. The terrorists must be checked at any cost,” he added.
Police, meanwhile, are trying to determine if a foreign group was involved in the plot executed by five gunmen.
“We are examining whether any international terrorist group was behind the attack,” Police Inspector Gen. A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told BenarNews on Monday. “We are not separated from rest of the world.”
Police arrested and have been questioning three locals for their suspected involvement in the attack, Ahsan Habib, the officer-in-charge of Shibganj police station, told BenarNews.
‘Beyond our imagination’
IS also claimed that it bombed a Shiite religious procession in Dhaka on Oct. 24, an act that killed two people and injured scores more. The group has also claimed a series of recent attacks targeting foreigners, including the shooting deaths of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer.
Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has rejected all such reports, saying that IS has no presence in the country.
The attacks on Shiites, nonetheless, have put the tiny religious minority on edge.
“This is beyond our imagination that we would be attacked in Bangladesh. We cannot point a finger at anyone for the attacks,” Sirajul Islam, a Shiite leader in Dhaka, told BenarNews
His community has received the full support of local people and police in protecting the seven Shiite mosques scattered nationwide, he added. There are an estimated 2.2 million Shiites in Bangladesh out of a total population of 160 million, according to Agence France-Presse.