The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for an attack on worshippers at a Shi'ite mosque in northern Bangladesh that killed one and wounded three others, the U.S.-based monitoring organization SITE Intelligence Group said Friday.
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on worshippers inside the Shi’ite mosque in Bangladesh’s Bogra district Thursday evening.
“The gunmen entered the mosque before launching the gun attacks. Four with gunshot injuries were immediately taken to a local hospital where one - the muezzin - died later,” Arifur Rahman Mondal, Additional Superintendent of police of Bogra, said to VOA by telephone.
“We have already launched a country-wide operation to hunt out the assailants.”
He later told the media that two people from nearby villages have been detained for questioning.
The muezzin, the man who calls the faithful to prayer, was identified as 70-year-old Moazzem Hossain. The three injured men were in critical condition in the hospital, local TV channels reported.
Mohammed Ukil, a relative of the muezzin, said the assailants tried to blend in with the worshippers.
“When, during the prayer, the worshippers were prostrating, with their faces downcast, they started shooting from the back. The men ran away when the worshippers shouted for help,” Ukil said.
The shooting, which took place 200 kilometers northwest of Dhaka, is the second such attack on the Muslim majority country’s small Shi’ite community, after a bomb attack hit a Shi’ite religious procession last month, killing two people.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had harsh words for whoever was responsible for the attack.
"A good Muslim can never resort to terrorism. The gunmen who attacked the worshipers at the mosque cannot be called Muslim," Hasina said. "In the name of religion these perverts are killing people, indulging in terrorism and bringing bad name to Islam."
Concerns of rising militancy
The attack comes amid concerns about the rise of militant Islamists in Bangladesh.
Between February and October four secular bloggers and one publisher were hacked to death in Bangladesh. Police say they were murdered by Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a local hard-line Islamist group.
In recent weeks gunmen also killed two foreigners – an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farming expert - in two separate attacks in the country. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for those attacks as well as the bombing of the Shi’ite procession.
Despite the reported IS claim of responsibility, authorities in Bangladesh insist that the extremist Sunni militant group has no foothold in the country and blame the opposition alliance led by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami for the attacks.
Earlier on Thursday, police in Bangladesh said that Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a banned local Islamist group, had carried out the attack on the Shi’ite procession.
Police also said officers shot and killed the JMB commander who had led the bombing attack during a police raid Wednesday. Officers arrested five JMB militants suspected of involvement in the procession bombing and killed another commander during the raid.
Efforts to divide
About 96 percent of Bangladesh’s 149 million Muslims are Sunni and the rest are Shi’ites. The two have lived together in harmony for as long as they have existed in the region, said Dhaka social activist Imran H. Sarker.
“Most of the Muslims participating in the Shia (Shi’ite) Muharram celebration are Sunni. We have never seen any enmity between the two Muslim sects in Bangladesh. The bomb attack on the Muharram procession in Muslim majority Bangladesh came as a surprise to us,” Sarker told VOA.
The attack on the mosque in Bangladesh has triggered a wave of concerns among Shi’ites in neighboring India.
Bilal Hussain, a Shi'ite community leader in New Delhi, said the mosque attack and last month’s bomb attack on the procession appeared to be new attempts to create a divide among Muslims.
“The two recent attacks on the Shias in Bangladesh, including the one today, have shocked us. We have heard that IS claimed responsibility for the two attacks. This terrorist group is trying to drive a wedge between the Sunnis and Shias,” Hussain told VOA.
Hussain is part of an India-based group that works in support of Sunni-Shi'ite accord.
“IS is trying to set the Sunnis in Bangladesh against the Shias. The group is an enemy of Islam,” he said.