DHAKA: The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on worshippers at a Shiite mosque in northern Bangladesh, the US-based monitoring organization SITE said Friday.
The attackers entered the mosque in Shibganj, some 200 kilometers north of Dhaka, during early evening prayers on Thursday and opened fire on the gathered worshippers before fleeing.
Television footage showed the heavily guarded Shiite mosque with broken windows and blood stains on the floor.
Police said the muezzin had been killed and three worshippers wounded in the shooting, a rare attack on minority Shiite Muslims in the mainly Sunni nation.
Detectives say they are questioning two people over the shooting although they had not been formally arrested.
“We have picked up two Sunni locals for interrogation in connection to the shootout,” Shibganj police chief Ahsan Habib told AFP.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity, said on its website that the Islamic State (IS) group had claimed responsibility in a message posted on Twitter.
Bangladeshi authorities have previously said there is no evidence that IS extremists are active in the country.
However, the group has claimed a series of attacks in Bangladesh, including the shooting and wounding of an Italian priest and the killing of a Sufi Muslim shrine chief, both this month.
Security stepped up
Security had been stepped up across the country after two top opposition leaders were hanged on Sunday following their conviction for war crimes committed during the 1971 independence conflict against Pakistan.
One of the men executed was Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, who was the official number two in the country’s biggest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami.
Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, a senior figure in the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was hanged at the same time at Dhaka’s Central Prison in the capital’s old quarter.
The attackers in Shibganj struck a day after police shot dead a top Islamist militant accused of hurling grenades at the country’s main Shiite shrine in Dhaka last month, killing two people.
The bombing was believed to be the first attack on Shiites in Bangladesh, though banned Islamist militant groups have killed more than a dozen Sufi Muslims and attacked Hindus and Christians in the last two years.
Speaking after the latest attack, local Shiite leader Mir Zulfiqar Ali said that there was growing sense of fear among the community.
“We are now concerned as it was the second time an attack came on us. All we can do is to condemn such attacks and ask for extra security from the government at our mosques and shrines,” he told AFP.
Police have pledged to step up security in the wake of the attack.
“Security has been beefed up at all important Shiite installations including their mosques in Dhaka ahead of the Muslim’s Friday prayer,” Dhaka police spokesman Muntashirul Islam told AFP.
Bangladesh has been roiled by violence for much of the last three years since a domestic tribunal began delivering its verdicts on opposition figures accused of orchestrating massacres during the 1971 war.