DHAKA: A firebomb attack on a bus killed four people on Wednesday, including a young child, while an aide to opposition leader Khaleda Zia survived an assassination attempt in a new upsurge of political unrest in Bangladesh.
The attack on the bus in the northern town of Mithapukur was carried out as anti-government activists tried to enforce a transport blockade as part of efforts to force the downfall of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
It was the deadliest incident since an outbreak of violence at the turn of the year when Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Zia was confined to her office after calling for Hasina to stand down. Zia remains stuck in the compound.
The police chief in Mithapukur, Rabiul Alam, said the packed bus was firebombed as it travelled to the capital Dhaka, blaming the attack on followers of an Islamist party which is part of a BNP-led alliance.
“At least 14 people were burnt in the attack. Four of them died, including a child whose body was charred beyond recognition,” Alam said. Three of the victims are in a very critical condition.
Eight activists from the radical Jamaat-i-Islami party had been arrested over the attack, Alam added. The BNP has denied that any parties in its opposition alliance were involved in the bus attack.
In Dhaka, police confirmed that Riaz Rahman, a state minister for foreign affairs when Zia was premier, had been seriously injured Tuesday night after unidentified attackers shot at him.
“He was shot four times from close range by at least three unidentified attackers. They also firebombed his car. His condition is now stable,” Dhaka police inspector Rafiqul Islam said.
The 74-year-old Rahman has been advising Zia since 2007.
In the past week, unidentified attackers have firebombed the houses of several of Zia’s aides.
The bus attack took the death toll in the latest unrest to 17 with hundreds more injured.
Zia ordered the blockade last Tuesday as part of a campaign push to force Hasina to stand down in favour of a neutral government that would organise fresh elections.
She blamed the government for the attack on Rahman, terming it “an act of cowardice and terror.” In protest, her party called a nationwide strike on Thursday.
In a statement the United States said it was “shocked and saddened” by the attack, calling it “outrageous and cowardly”.