Date: 5/27/2004


........Bangla under fire for attack on UK envoy

.....................IANS/ Dhaka

As a Scotland Yard probe begins into an attack on a shrine in northeast Bangladesh that killed three people, Opposition parties are accusing the government of harbouring Islamic militants, reports The 700-year-old shrine, located in Sylhet town, 278 km northeast of this Capital, was shaken by a deafening explosion Friday that sent afternoon worshippers scurrying for cover and injured over 70 people.

Bangladesh-born British envoy Anwar Chowdhury, barely 18 days into his new assignment, suffered minor leg injuries as the bomb exploded on impact, bouncing off his belly on to the tiled floor of the shrine, after Friday prayers. Now out of danger, Chowdhury flew back to London Monday, leaving Bangladesh wondering whether the country is becoming a haven for international Islamic groups.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw linked the bomb attack to global terrorism, stating: "Bangladesh is no stranger to attacks on religious places. Those who are excessively enthusiastic about religion often seem to be working against the religious spirit."

This was the second blast at the shrine this year: On Jan 12 five people were killed and 30 injured. A week earlier, hundreds of rare turtles and fishes in two shrines located in the southeastern port city of Chittagong were mysteriously poisoned. But the January blast remains unsolved, as do a slew of terrorist attacks over the last five years that killed 140 people and injured 1,000. Significantly, due to alleged political complicity, none of the attackers was punished. While Bangladesh's main opposition Awami League blames Islamic militants for the blasts, the Government continues to deny the existence of militant groups in the country, pointing a finger at the Awami League instead.

But with Britain's Scotland Yard now on the job, the truth is soon likely to emerge. Preliminary police investigations into Friday's blast point to the involvement of local Islamic militants. British sleuths are scrutinising seven different Islamic groups, including the Al Qaeda-funded Harkatul Jihad. Investigators are also examining the operations of some madarsas long suspected of being recruitment grounds for militant groups.

They say fundamentalist parties, including one called Hizbut Tahrir, pasted anti-British and anti-US posters around the shrine two days prior to the blast. "It is a possibility that an anti-Anglo-American group is involved in the attack," says Ali Imam Chowdhury, deputy inspector general of police, Sylhet range. Chowdhury adds that the police suspect the group used a hand grenade, similar to the one used in the Jan 12 attack.

The latest explosion in a chain of terror attacks has fuelled protests from Opposition parties which accuse the government of "supporting" Islamic groups, citing the example of the violent Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) - a youth front of the Harqat-ul-Jihad. Alleges Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the Opposition and Awami League president: "The bomb attack on British High Commissioner Anwar Chowdhury is not an isolated incident but a pre-planned one." "Communal forces harboured by the Government are responsible for the violence. We demand an immediate and impartial investigation into the attack."

Awami League leader Saber Hossain Chowdhury accuses ruling coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami of involvement in the attacks. "They have been opposing shrines calling them un-Islamic, so they may have played a role from behind the scenes," he says. Left alliance leader Hasanul Haq Inu agrees that the attacks were conducted by Islamic militants.

The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party rejects allegations of backing militant groups, declaring that the attack was masterminded by people anxious to tarnish Bangladesh's image internationally. Says BNP secretary general and Minister for Local Government Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, "Those involved in carrying out the blast are barbaric killers and enemies of the country and its people. They have staged this heinous act to tarnish the country's image abroad."

The Jamaat-e-Islami also denies having links with either the bomb blast incident or the JMJB's activities in northern Bangladesh.