DHAKA (Reuters) - A series of blasts killed at least one person and wounded dozens as Shi‘ite Muslims gathered for a procession in the old part of Bangladesh’s capital early on Saturday to mark the holy day of Ashura, police said.
Islamic State, the hardline Sunni Muslim group that sees Shi‘ites as apostates, claimed responsibility for the attack.
But Bangladesh’s interior minister told Reuters that no militants were involved and the blasts were not linked to an attack that killed 16 people at a Shi‘ite procession in neighbouring Pakistan hours earlier.
Police cordoned off the area and one officer said four suspects had been detained. Witnesses said people fled after blasts, losing their flip-flops and sandals in the panic.
Attacks on the Shi‘ite minority have been rare in Sunni-majority Bangladesh, but Sunni militant groups have become more active.
“This is not a militant attack, rather it is a planned and destructive attack aiming only to destabilize the situation of the country,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Reuters.
“Though the attack came hours after a suicide bombing in Pakistan, we strongly believe the situation is not similar at all as we live peacefully with Shia community,” he said.
But soon after, monitoring group SITE reported Islamic State had released a message saying “soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh” detonated explosive devices in Dhaka during “polytheist rituals”.
In recent weeks the Bangladeshi government dismissed two other claims of responsibility by Islamic State, one for the killing of an Italian in September, and another for the killing of a Japanese man earlier this month.
At least 10 people were admitted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, and most of them were in a stable condition, an official there said.
Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir, acting secretary general of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, demanded a “neutral investigation” into the attack.
“This is a clear sign of a deteriorated law and order,” said Moqbul Ahmed, acting leader of the country’s largest Sunni-Muslim Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh.
U.S. ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat released a statement saying she was shocked by the attack and noted Bangladesh’s long tradition of religious tolerance and communal harmony.
After the attack, Britain said its security advice for citizens in Bangladesh remained the same, asking them to keep a low profile in all public spaces as further attacks targeting Westerners could occur.
Editing by Andrew Heavens and Raissa Kasolowsky