At least nine members of a family were burnt alive when eight Bihari homes at Kurmitola camp in the city's Mirpur were torched following a clash between Biharis and law enforcers, allegedly accompanied by locals early yesterday.
Another person with rubber-bullet pellet injuries, reportedly from police firing, died of his wounds in hospital.
Dozens were injured during the nearly six-hour sporadic clashes and two victims were in Dhaka Medical College Hospital.
Who torched the homes was unclear, with different versions of the story coming in from sources.
The Biharis alleged that local ruling party men set the houses on fire over a recent feud with their community. They also speculated that the attack might have been a part of a ploy to grab their land.
The Bangalees of the area and law enforcers blamed infighting within the Bihari community. The local lawmaker said it could have been an “accident” during the handling of fireworks.
A group of Biharis also attacked and burned down a Jubo League office in Mirpur area afterwards.
Locals said some youths set off firecrackers near a mosque in the area around dawn right after Fajr prayers around 5:00am.
People praying on Shab-e-Barat night in the mosque created a ruckus over the incident, which drew the attention of policemen on patrol. The police had imposed a ban on fireworks during Shab-e-Barat.
The law enforcers charged truncheons on the youths and chased them into the Bihari camp, triggering chases and counter chases, eyewitnesses told The Daily Star.
After retreating, police came back with reinforcements and fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells to disperse the youths. They were flanked by locals who were armed with cleavers, sources said.
Reportedly locals tore up Bihari settlements and shops, leaving foot-long gashes in corrugated iron sheet walls and doors. In the midst of this chaos, eight houses inside the Kurmitola Bihari camp were torched.
Baby Begum, 40, her children Ashique, 22, Shahana, 25, Afsana, 20, Roksana, 8, and 12-year-old twins Lalu and Bholu perished. Shahana's three-year-old son Maruf and sister-in-law Shikha were also burnt to death, family members said.
Police sources, however, said they had confirmation of seven of a family dying in the blaze.
Baby's daughter Farzana, 15, managed to escape the burning house with 17 percent of her body burnt.
After the fire, the inhabitants of the area refused to hand over the bodies of the deceased to the authorities concerned. Deputy Commissioner Shaikh Yusuf Harun of Dhaka had to negotiate with the locals until 2:00pm and promise better security for the camp, proper investigation into the incident and Tk 20,000 for the burial of each victim to get the bodies.
Azad was shot during the chase and counter chase. Doctors declared him dead when he was taken to DMCH. His back was peppered with shotgun pellets, morgue sources said.
Officer-in-Charge Syed Ziauzzaman of Pallabi Police Station claimed that the clash was between two rival groups of the Bihari camp and the alleged arson could have been due to their rivalry.
He had tried to calm the situation after the fire but was attacked by the Biharis, police said.
Quoting sources, local Awami League lawmaker Ilias Uddin Mollah said the fire could have originated from an accident with firecrackers.
However, the youths had been using fireworks around dawn and firefighters reported that the houses caught fire around 8:15am.
Locals claimed that neither Bangalees of the area nor ruling party men were involved in the incident.
“None of our men went there,” said Nur Mohammad, a resident of Bauniabandh area. “They were probably fighting amongst themselves … why get ourselves in trouble?” he said.
Although the law enforcers were yet to identify the real perpetrators of the incident, the government has formed a probe committee led by a joint commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
The fire brigade also formed a three-member probe body, led by a deputy director, to unearth the reason behind the blaze.
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia also demanded a judicial probe into the incident.
BLAME ON ILIAS
Javed Hossain, a resident of the camp, alleged that local lawmaker Ilias Uddin Mollah early on Thursday threatened Biharis with dire consequences after the leaders of the Bihari community rejected his request for illegal electricity connections to be given to a nearby slum.
Ilias, through his loyalists, even filed a case against 20 Bihari people, including some top community leaders of the camp, on Thursday, said Javed.
Several residents of the camp alleged that Ilias's men were behind the arson. They claimed that ruling party men ran a business of illegal utility connections to nearby slum Raju Basti from the Bihari camp.
They said the illegal connection had been severed and Ilias wanted those connections restored.
Ilias, however, refuted the allegation.
The local lawmaker told The Daily Star yesterday that he had gone to the camp on Wednesday night following demonstrations by locals living beside the camp demanding electricity.
He claimed that when he attempted to have electricity connections between the camp and the slum established through discussions with mid-level community leaders, the Biharis foiled the attempt.
Discussions were still on, said Ilias.
He said to him everyone was a voter and he did not distinguish between Biharis and Bangalees there.
Abdul Jabbar Khan, president Stranded Pakistanis General Repatriation Committee, told The Daily Star that he believed that the local lawmaker was “responsible” for the killing.
Locals in the area through loudspeakers yesterday blamed Ilias for the killing and urged the prime minister to get Ilias out of parliament. They also demanded the release of seven people arrested after the incident, beefing up security for the camp, compensation for the victims' families, and proper investigation and justice.
About the case filed on Thursday against the 20 Bihari men, the OC of Pallabi Police Station said the case had originally been filed over a clash between two groups of Bihari men over electricity connections.