Dhaka blasts: One dead in attack on Shia Ashura ritual

media captionThe BBC's Akbar Hossain: "Many Shia people could not believe they have been targeted"

A bomb attack on Shia Muslims in Bangladesh has killed one person and wounded at least 80 others.

Police said three homemade devices were detonated amid thousands of worshippers gathering for the annual Ashura procession in the capital, Dhaka.

The militant group Islamic State reportedly claimed responsibility but this was dismissed by the government.

Leaders of Bangladesh's small Shia minority said it was the first time the procession had been targeted.

Bangladesh is predominantly a Sunni Islam nation, but Shia Muslims have held this procession to mark Ashura for over 400 years.

In Pakistan, at least 22 were killed on Friday when a suicide bomber attacked an Ashura ceremony in Jacobabad.

'Covered in blood'

image copyrightEPA
image captionThe bombs were thrown as some 20,000 people from Bangladesh's minority Shia Muslim community gathered to mark Ashura
image copyrightReuters
image captionAt least 80 people were injured
image copyrightAP
image captionTwo unexploded devices were found at the scene but participants vowed to continue their procession

The blast happened before dawn on Saturday in the old town area of Dhaka at around 02:00 (20:00 GMT Friday).

Some 20,000 Shia Muslims were gathered at the historic Hussaini Dalan, the main Shia site in the city, to start an annual rally to mark the occasion of Ashura.

"Suddenly, the bombs exploded near me, and we started running," medicine shop owner Mohammed Sajib told Associated Press. "My hands are covered in blood. We took many to the hospital."

A boy said to be in his mid-teens died from shrapnel wounds. Among the other casualties, at least one is reported to be in critical condition.

Another two unexploded devices were recovered at the scene.

IS claim

Police detained two people for questioning.

But authorities dismissed a claim by the self-styled Islamic State group - picked up by US monitoring group SITE - that it had targeted the "polytheist rituals".

"So far we have not found any link to any militant group in the attack," Dhaka police spokesman Muntashirul Islam told AFP news agency.

Opposition parties demanded an independent investigation.

A three-member committee had been set up to look into what happened, Mr Islam was quoted as saying.

"It is our apprehension that blasts were carried out only to panic the people and to create a chaotic situation," said Colonel Ziaul Ahsan of the elite Rapid Action Battalion.

During Ashura, Shia Muslims mourn the death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

Procession participants in Dhaka have vowed to carry on with the ritual.

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