Gunmen attack during prayers at Bangladeshi Shi’ite mosque, one dead

DHAKA (REUTERS) – Gunmen opened fire during evening prayers at a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in Bangladesh on Thursday, killing one person and wounding three, police said, the second attack on the country’s tiny Shia Muslim community.

The shooting in northwestern Bogra district came a day after police killed a top militant, the main suspect behind last month’s bombing of a Shi’ite shrine that left two people dead and wounded dozens.

“The attackers entered the mosque and opened fire on the devotees after locking the main gate and then fled immediately after the shooting,” police official Ahsan Habib said.

Witnesses said three young attackers stormed into the mosque and shot at worshippers indiscriminately when they were praying.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh has seen a rise in Islamist violence in recent months, with two foreigners, four secular writers and a publisher killed this year. Some of the attacks have been claimed by the hardline Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The government rejects those claims and says local militants are involved in the killings. Critics say the government is whipping up a climate of fear to go after its political rivals.

ISIS also claimed responsibility for the bombing on the Shi’ite shrine in Dhaka on Oct 24, the first such attack on Shia community in the country.

Police said on Thursday home-grown militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen was behind the attack and arrested five members of the banned outfit while main suspect, the head of the military wing of the group, was killed in a gunfight last night.

“They were involved in various subversive activities including attacks on a police checkpoint and Shi’ite gatherings during Ashura,” police joint commissioner Monirul Islam told a news conference as the men were brought out in handcuffs.

Tensions have rising since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched a crackdown on militants, putting several leaders on trial for war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence.

The militant groups have vowed to convert Bangladesh into a state based on sharia, or Islamic law.