A mob torched and vandalized a village of Buddhists in Cox’s Bazaar’s Ramu Upazila early on Sunday in one of the worst religious attacks in Bangladesh apparently triggered by a Facebook posting allegedly defaming the Quran.
Eyewitnesses and police said the assailants set fire to at least six Buddhist temples and nearly 20 homes and looted and damaged more than a hundred others until 3am in the hate attack.
Cox’s Bazaar district’s Superintendent of Police Selim Mohammed Jahangir acknowledged the violence in the Buddhist-dominated locality. He said around 3am situation in the Ramu district headquarters was under control but in areas on the fringe, tension was palpable.
“Police patrols have been strengthened in the Buddhist-majority areas,” SP Jahangir added.
Paramilitary BGB personnel have been called out to restore order in the affected areas, Suresh Barua, teacher at a local school, said.
Several houses and Mithhachharhi Bonbihar, some five kilometres from Ramu Sadar Upazila, were set on fire around 3:30am, said General Secretary of Ramu Upazila Juba League Nitish Barua.
A 100-foot high under-construction Buddha sculpture was also ravaged in Bimukti Bidarshan Babna Centre in the locality, he added.
Gias Uddin Ziku, Office Secretary of Cox’s Bazaar district unit of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal and Chairman of Jhilangja Union, said he dispersed Jamaat-e-Islami activists who had gathered around localities of ethnic minorities. He also said he had informed the police of the incident.
Local people said followers of an Islamist party led by several leaders took out a procession around 10pm on Saturday alleging that a photo was uploaded on the Facebook to defame the holy book.
At a subsequent rally, they claimed a youth by the name of Uttam Barua had pasted the purportedly offensive photo in the social networking website and demanded his arrest.
Another militant procession was taken out that marched down towards the Barua Parha around 11:30pm and some youths from the procession set some homes of the Buddhists on fire.
From then on, 15 homes, three temples including ‘Saada Ching’ and ‘Laal Ching’ were burned to the ground, Dipak Barua, a local, said.
Police, local administration officials and public representatives were trying to quell the arson and destruction that continued at least until 1:30am.
A local journalist, who was hiding with family in the neighbourhood that came under attack, told the Cheranghata Barakyang Temple close to his home was set alight. He said the flames died out around 2:45am.
Also, Ramu Maitree Bihar, Saada Chinglaal, Ramy Sina Bihar and Jadiparha Bouddha Bihar were torched, ransacked and looted.
At least 10 Buddhist villages were attacked and Purbo Merongloa locality that had around 20 houses was burned.
Chairman of Ramu Upazila Council Sohel Sarwar Kajal said efforts were on to quell the tension.
Several Facebook users, meanwhile, said Uttam Barua, the Ramu youth being accused of Quran defamation, did not post the photo deemed to be offensive to Islam.