Bangladesh train arson: Opposition BNP leader among 8 arrested, party demands UN probe

At least 15 incidents of arson attacks took place in 16 hours: Officials

Bangladesh elections train arson A passenger train that was on fire is seen, ahead of the general election, in Dhaka, Bangladesh | Reuters

Dhaka police on Saturday arrested eight people, including a prominent leader of the opposition BNP, for planning and financing Friday's arson attack on a train in the heart of Dhaka that left at least four people dead, ahead of elections in Bangladesh boycotted by the opposition.

Four carriages of the Benapole Express that runs from Benapole, bordering West Bengal, were set on fire at around 9 pm on Friday at the Gopibagh area, less than two km from its destination of the capital's Kamalapur Railway Station.

As Bangladesh beefed up nationwide security vigil ahead of Sunday's general elections, the eight persons arrested include Dhaka south city unit BNP joint convener Nabi Ullah Nabi and five activists of Jubo Dal, which is the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party's youth wing. Also arrested was one of the main suspected perpetrators of the arson attack identified as Kazi Monsoor Alam.

Harun-or-Rashid, Chief of Detective Branch (DB) of police and also the Additional Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), told media persons that Alam coordinated with previously jailed criminals to execute the attack as advised and funded by Nabi Ullah Nabi.

They orchestrated the attack in a video conference, Rashid said, adding, At least 12-13 Jubo Dal unit leaders including Mansur held a video conference on Thursday around 6:00 pm. They planned arson attacks in Kishorganj-Narsingdi and Narayanganj-Kamalapur routes and crude bomb attacks at various polling centres in different wards.

Rashid said Nabi was not present at the video conference but was one of the financiers and advisors of the attack.

Demanding a UN-supervised investigation into the incident, the BNP called it a pre-planned act of sabotage ahead of Sunday's general elections, which the party has boycotted and given a call for a 48-hour nationwide strike starting at 6:00 am Saturday.

The BNP is led by former prime minister, an ailing Khaleda Zia, who is under house arrest on graft charges.

In a statement, BNP senior Joint Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi expressed concern over the heartbreaking incident of casualties due to arson by miscreants on the Benapole Express train.

There is no doubt that the Benapole Express train fire was an act of sabotage, leading to the loss of life, The Daily Star newspaper quoted Rizvi as saying and further said that the BNP leader called for a UN-supervised investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, the Dhaka Tribune newspaper reported that Bangladesh Railways has formed a seven-member committee to investigate the incident, to identify the reason behind it, and to fix responsibility.

Of the four, three coaches were completely burnt. Railway officials said that most of the train's nearly 292 passengers were returning home from India.

Bangladesh earlier called out army troops in aid of civil administration to maintain peace and order but reports said unidentified people set ablaze eight schools that are to be used as polling booths on the eve of Sunday's voting.

Fire service officials said at least 15 incidents of clandestine arson attacks took place in 16 hours since Friday evening when the miscreants also set fire to five vehicles.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock and sorrow at the loss of four lives and directed the authorities concerned to investigate whether the fire was an act of sabotage.

More than 100 foreign observers, including three from India, have reached Dhaka to monitor the general election, polling for which begins at 8:00 am on Sunday.

The BNP is boycotting the general election as it wanted an interim non-party neutral government to hold the election, a demand rejected by the government headed by Hasina, also the head of the ruling Awami League (AL) party.

Media tally suggested violence in the run-up to the elections killed at least 15 people in the past three months since October 28 last year. In the run-up to the January elections, Bangladesh witnessed a couple of train-related arson incidents among several incidents of violence in recent months.

On January 2, a train carrying some 300 passengers narrowly averted a major crash at the last minute as suspected saboteurs removed 28 dog spikes or hooks from the tracks on a railway bridge in northern Bangladesh.

An unidentified person on December 19 set a train ablaze killing four people, among them a mother and child, amid an opposition called countrywide strike on that day.

Earlier in the month, one passenger was killed and dozens wounded as saboteurs uprooted railway tracks when seven carriages derailed in Gazipur on the outskirts of the capital.

Awami League accused the BNP of carrying out the sabotage, which the party denied. 


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