Militants carried out another deadly attack in Bangladesh Thursday at the country’s biggest prayer service for the start of Eid al-Fitr, days after a mass murder of hostages in the capital Dhaka.
Authorities said two policemen and an attacker had been killed after several explosions near a prayer ground in the district of Kishoreganj as at least 250,000 people joined a traditional gathering marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
An officer stationed in the northern district’s police control room told Agence France Presse that one policeman had died at the scene of the bomb attack and a second had been later pronounced dead in hospital.
Another senior officer said that six of his men had been injured in the attack and one of the attackers had been shot dead, while home-made machetes had been recovered from the scene.
“They threw hand bombs at us and we responded with gunfire. A gunfight ensued and they fired back and threw more hand bombs,” Tofazzal Hosain, the northern district’s deputy police chief, told AFP.
Azimuddin Biswas, the district administrator, told AFP the attack had taken place on the premises of a nearby school and not on the actual prayer ground.
“The congregation was not affected by the clashes,” he said.
The gathering in Kishoreganj, that lies about 90 kilometers north of Dhaka, is known as the Sholakia Eid prayers and is by far the biggest such congregation in Bangladesh, a mainly Muslim country that is home to around 160 million people.
The attack came less than a week after militants killed 20 hostages and two policemen in an overnight siege at a Western-style cafe in Dhaka.
Most of the hostages slain during the Friday night attack on the restaurant were foreign — from Italy, Japan and India — raising international concerns about escalating extremist violence in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has been on a heightened state of alert in the wake of the killings and many Eid services included pleas from religious leaders for an end to the violence.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday’s attack. But Bangladesh has been reeling from a growing wave of attacks since the turn of the year, many of which have been claimed by the self-styled ISIS or an offshoot of the Al-Qaeda network.
However Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has consistently denied international militant networks have gained a foothold and have said the weekend attack in Dhaka was carried out by a local group.