Monday, June 29, 2009

Flirting with the Past: Bombing in a Church in Bangladesh Kills 10 (June 3, 2001)

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(Top Row) The graves of 10 Catholics killed by a bomb blast
in a church at Baniarchor, Gopalganj District

Photo Courtesy: www.compassdirect.org/

It was eight years ago, June 3, 2001, the Pentecost Sunday. Catholics were participating in a Mass at the Most Holy Redeemer Church at Baniarchor, about 100 kilometres (62 miles) southwest of Dhaka city. Italian missionary Father Mimmo Pietanza, S.X. was the celebrant. Around 7:20 a.m. a powerful cellphone-controlled bomb exploded near the shelf where Bibles, prayer books and hymnals are kept for use by the faithful.

The blast killed 10 persons and injured 26 others. The eastern wall of the church was damaged heavily and splinters tore through the corrugated iron sheet roofing. The church was filled with smoke and Mass attendants ran out of the church.

According to the Pratibeshi, the national Catholic weekly of Bangladesh, those killed in the blast were: Amar Biswas (25), Binode Das (32), Jhintu Mondol (21), Jyotish Biswas (30), Michael Mollick (25), Monmoth Sikder (22), Peter Saha (30), Rodrigues Jetra (27), Shanjiban Baroi (28) and Sumon Halder (27).

A Handiwork of Radical Islamists

An eye-witness, Panna Lal, told the UCA News that an unknown young man entered the church when the Mass began and sat near the bookshelf with a bag in his hand. A little later he left the church. After his leaving, there was a 'cring, cring' sound (of a cellphone) and then the bag exploded.

Father Pietanza told the UCA News: "So many people come to visit the church every day, how could I suspect someone like this?" He also said: "I cannot tell who could do this damage when people are praying. We have no enemies." He suspected that Islamic fundamentalists might have been behind the bombing.

The UCA News reports that after an initial investigation, the army reported that the bomb was similar to the one that killed nine people at an April 14 (2001) Bengali New Year concert in Dhaka. They suggested that both the incidents might be the handiwork of an unidentified Islamic fundamentalist group.

Reactions

The then incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her shock at the blast and sent her condolences to the Catholic community. She also ordered the army intelligence units to investigate the bombing incident immediately.

Khaleda Zia, the opposition leader, condemned the bombing and expressed her solidarity with the Christians.

Catholic Bishops and heads of Protestant Churches in Bangladesh sent a memorandum to the government requesting a thorough investigation and taking steps in removing the deep-rooted casuses of terrorism in Bangladesh.

The Christian Association of Bangladesh called for a protest meeting on June 4 at the Shaheed Minar (Language Martyrs' Memorial) in Dhaka.

Herbert Fernandes, President of the Catholic Association of Chittagong, comdemned the bombing as barbaric and appealed to Prime Minister Hasina to take immediate action in arresting the culprits.

There were many protest meetings and human chains both by Christians and non-Christians in different parts of the country.

The bomb blast report was published and broadcast all over the world and, from past experiences of bombing in the country, fingers were being pointed at the radical Islamists for this latest deadly incident.

A Lame Investigation

On February 18, 2002, the investigation commission of Justice Bari presented its report in which he tried to show that the inter-group struggles among Christians resulted in the bombing in the church.

The Christians of Bangladesh rejected this report. They are still expecting that the present government of Sheikh Hasina will take necessary steps in getting a thorough investigation done and finding out the real culprits behind the church bombing.

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