Six of them were returning to Baghaichhari upazila when their vehicles came under attack
Seven people, including two election officials and four Ansar and VDP members, have been shot dead and at least 26 others injured in a gun attack in Rangamati.
The officials were engaged in polls duty at three polling centres in the Baghaichhari upazila during the second phase of the Upazila Parishad Election held on Monday.
They were returning to the upazila headquarters with election materials after counting votes at the centres, when the four vehicles they were travelling on came under attack around 6:45pm.
The district's Superintendent of Police (SP) Md Alamgir Kabir said a group of unidentified armed men carried out the attack on the main road in the upazila’s Noymile area and killed six people on the spot.
He feared the death toll may rise.
Confirming the numbers of deceased and injured, the district’s Deputy Commissioner (DC) AKM Mamunur Rashid told the Dhaka Tribune: “Eleven of the injured had sustained gunshot injuries and were critical.
“Six of them have already been airlifted to the CMH (Combined Military Hospital) in Chittagong.”
He said another helicopter was on the way to take six other critically wounded people to the CMH. “The rest of the injured are being treated at the Baghaichhari Upazila Health Complex for minor injuries.”
The deceased were identified as Md Amir Hossain, 40, assistant presiding officer of a polling centre of the Kanglak under Sajek union, Ansar members Jahanara Begum, 40, Mihir Kanti Dutta, 35, Bilkis Aktar, 30, and Md Al Amin, 25, and Montu Chakma, 35.
Presiding Officer Abdul Hannan Arab, who is a lecturer at the Baghaichhari Kachalang Degree College, is among the injured that included five policemen and three Ansar members.
However, DC Mamunur later confirmed that one of the critically injured, Assistant Presiding Officer Abu Taiyeb, succumbed to his wounds while being taken to the Chittagong CMH via helicopter.
The district’s Additional DC SM Shafi Kamal said the polling centres where the victim election officials carried out their duties were situated at Baghaihat and Baghaichhari.
“They were attacked around 6:45pm when they were returning to Baghaichhari via Sajek road,” said Shafi, also the returning officer, told the Dhaka Tribune.
Eyewitness accounts from locals painted the picture of an ambush, with some saying the attackers were apparently waiting on a roadside hillock for the vehicles of the election officials.
They said several unidentified men carrying semi-automatic firearms had sprayed the vehicles with bullets from their position, leaving multiple people dead and injured at the scene.
On information, members of Bangladesh Army and Border Guard Bangladesh rushed in, rescued the victims with the help of locals and took them to Baghaichhari Upazila Health Complex.
No individual or group has claimed credit for the attack yet, while the authorities scramble to identify the attackers.
Amid a tense situation, security was beefed up in the upazila afterwards.
Election Commission Joint Secretary SM Asaduzzaman said that they were apprised of the gun attack at Baghaichhari and a rescue operation was currently ongoing there.
He also said that the commission and the Rangamati DC office would do everything necessary to tackle the crisis.
The Election Commission in a statement later also condemned the attack on the election officials, saying it will stand by the families of the deceased and the injured.
The commission also issued an order to ensure proper treatment of the injured.
Seven upazilas, including Baghaichhari, in Rangamati went to polls in the second phase of Fifth Upazila Parishad Elections held on Monday.
Five chairman candidates and seven vice-chairman candidates in Baghaichhari, Naniarchar and Kaukhali upazilas had boycotted the polls earlier in the day, alleging ballot stuffing, gross irregularities and voter intimidation.