They used mosque loudspeakers to instigate people to attack the Hindu village, says the elite police unit
The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on Saturday said it had detained two people, including the alleged mastermind, responsible for the arson attack on Hindu houses at Boro Karimpur village in Rangpur’s Pirganj.
The detainees are prime suspect and expelled local Bangladesh Chhatra League leader Saikat Mandal, 24, of Cheragpur Mondolpara village under Ramnathpur union of Pirganj upazila, and his associate and imam of a mosque Md Robiul Islam, 36, of Khejmatpur village of the same upazila, who locals claim is a former member of Islami Chhatra Shibir.
Police have filed three cases — two under the Digital Security Act and one under the Penal Code — against them at Pirganj police station.
RAB 13 earlier arrested under the same charges some people, who provided information on the mastermind during interrogation, said Commander Khandaker Al Moin, director of the force's Legal and Media Wing.
Based on the information thus obtained, the elite police arrested the alleged mastermind Saikat and Robiul from the Tongi area on Friday night.
“The arrestees [Saikat and Robiul], during primary interrogation, revealed that they had gathered the attackers by spreading propaganda on social media and using loudspeakers for the arson attack, creating chaos and destroying communal harmony,” Al Moin said.
Replying to a query as to whether Saikat was affiliated with the ruling party’s student wing, the RAB director added: “As he was studying honours [undergraduate] at a degree college of Rangpur, he claimed his affiliation with the Chhatra League but we could not find any affiliation with any political parties and he also could not prove that.”
Meanwhile, the Rangpur Carmichael College unit of the Chhatra League expelled Saikat from the post of vice-president of its philosophy department through a press release signed by its president and general secretary on Saturday, on allegations that he was involved in anti-party activities, reports our Rangpur correspondent.
Saikat ran a Facebook page in his name which had over 3,000 followers, Al Moin said, adding that over 500 people gathered ahead of the arson attack after Saikat’s post appeared.
Around 56 people have been arrested till now, of whom 37 have been remanded so far, said Pirganj police station OC Saresh Chandra.
Beginning of the communal attack
According to a screenshot provided by RAB, Saikat stated in one of his Facebook stories that “a Muslim was killed in an attack by Hindus.” On October 17, no one from the Muslim community came under attack but rather over 20 houses were burnt down in Rangpur.
Saikat was waiting for turmoil caused by his post to lead to unrest in his area. After the arson attack, he went into hiding, RAB said.
On October 17, extremists attacked, vandalized, and set fire to houses and looted properties of Hindus in Boro Karimpur village, following the provocative photo-remark of Paritosh Sarker, 19, on Facebook.
Assistant Superintendent of Police (D circle) in Rangpur district Md Kamruzzaman said that immediately after the incident law enforcers were able to protect Paritosh’s house, but the perpetrators set fire to around 20 houses nearby.
Paritosh was arrested from Panchbibi upazila in Joypurhat district the next day and sued under the Digital Security Act.
Citing the primary confession, the RAB spokesperson said, Saikat encouraged the public to participate in the attack and arson on the day. Under his leadership, several people directly participated in the attacks, vandalized houses, shops and looted those before setting them on fire. Saikat acknowledged that he had instructed Robiul to gather people by using the loudspeakers of a mosque.
Robiul came to a mosque near Paritosh’s house and urged people to gather immediately.
Locals whose houses were burnt have alleged that they heard announcements coming from the mosque, asking people to attack Hindu houses.
Later he passed on the charge of making announcements to his cousin. In the meantime, Robiul started sermonizing and spreading hate speech among the community.
Saikat, Robiul and some others provoked the people of the village into setting fire to Hindu homes.
Before the beginning
Ujjal Hasan, who was arrested from Dinajpur on Wednesday, provoked Paritosh in a religious debate and insulted him over religious issues. Paritosh then asked Ujjal if he published a post insulting Ujjal’s religion, how would he feel, said Al Moin.
Subsequently, Paritosh released content insulting Islam and deleted that in a few minutes. But Ujjal took a screengrab and spread that from his Facebook account. Saikat, the mastermind of the arson attack, who was waiting for a chance to create communal violence, watched Ujjal’s post and incited the rest of the rampage, he added.
Saikat, Robiul, Ujjal, and Paritosh Sarker are all friends on Facebook, the RAB spokesperson confirmed.
So far RAB has arrested 30 people, alleging that they attempted to destabilize the law and order situation in the country by spreading provocative, misleading and false information through social media with the aim of destroying communal harmony, the agency said in a statement.
Temples, puja venues and properties of the Hindu community started coming under attack in different districts of the country following the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran at a Durga Puja venue in Comilla’s Nanua Dighi area on October 13. The person accused of placing the Quran on a Hanuman idol’s lap, Iqbal Hossain, was arrested from Cox’s Bazar on October 21.
At least eight people died till Friday, five centring on the Chandpur incident and two in Noakhali and another in communal violence in Comilla.
Our Rangpur Correspondent Liakat Ali Badal contributed to this report