Five people, including a child, were burnt to death as alleged blockaders hurled a petrol bomb in a long-haul bus at Jaigirhat in Rangpur early yesterday.
At least 15 others were injured, one of them critically. Of the 15, six suffered burns. All but one of the injured were being treated at Rangpur Medical College Hospital.
The incident took place although the bus, along with some 30 more, was plying under law enforcement agencies' protection.
The attack was made on Rangpur-Dhaka highway on the ninth day of the BNP-led alliance's countrywide nonstop blockade that claimed two more lives in Chittagong and Feni, raising the death toll to 20 since January 5. Yesterday's death toll was the highest in a single day in the ongoing blockade.
Arson attacks on vehicles have become a common feature of the blockade. At least 189 vehicles were torched across the country in the last 10 days, according to fire service.
But the number is believed to be much higher, as fire service counts only those its members douse.
Yesterday, a night coach, "Khalil Special”, came under arson attack around five hours after it left Ulipur of Kurigram for the capital with 40-45 passengers at about 9:00pm on Tuesday.
As the bus reached Jaigirhat area in Mithapukur upazila around 2:00am, several blockaders threw brick chips at the vehicle, said Al Amin, who was in the bus.
"At one stage, they hurled a petrol bomb that fell just behind the driver, and burst into a flame immediately," said the 22-year-old from Lakhiarpara village of Ulipur.
Al-Amin managed to get his mother and sister out of the bus through a window. But he broke his right leg while trying to jump out through the window.
His aunts Tasiran Bewa and Minara Khatun got trapped inside and suffered severe burns.
The two were brought to Dhaka Medical College Hospital where doctors declared Tasiran dead around 11:00pm. She had suffered 96 percent burns.
Minara's condition was stated to be critical.
Another passenger of the bus, Rashed Khan Menon, also gave an account of his harrowing experience.
Fire engulfed the bus within moments. "Everyone tried to get out through windows … some managed but others couldn't …," he said.
Later, firefighters from Mithapukur put out the flame and recovered the bodies of two women, a man and a child.
Rangpur Police Superintendent Abdur Razzak told The Daily Star last night that the bus came under attack as it fell far behind the other buses in the convoy, as it waited for a passenger in Mithapukur.
Two of the five dead are Rahima Begum, 65, and her son Rahim Badshah, 45, of Ulipur upazila. The bodies were handed over to their family after identification.
One Abdul Jabbar claimed the third victim to be his daughter. But police are not sure about the identification of the third victim, who was burned beyond recognition.
The fourth victim, a child, too remains unidentified. No one claimed the body either.
These two bodies were kept at Rangpur Medical College Hospital for DNA test, said Md Rabiul Alam, officer-in-charge of Mithapukur Police Station.
A case was filed against 120 Jamaat-Shibir men for their alleged involvement in the arson attack.
Rabiul said they arrested eight Jamaat-Shibir men from areas close to the spot.
Voicing concern over the incident, the BNP yesterday claimed the government again resorted to its old game of carrying out acts of sabotage by its agents and shifting the blame onto the opposition.
Meanwhile, 12 vehicles were torched in the capital and 19 more in other parts of the country yesterday, said fire service officials.
Pro-blockade pickets blasted crude bombs in the capital and elsewhere.
At the city's Khilkhet, at least five people, including a police constable and two Ansar members, were injured in a crude bomb attack. Suspected blockaders first blasted a bomb in the area around 10:45pm. When police arrived at the scene to catch the attackers, they blasted several other cocktails, injuring the five.
At Bangabazar, two people were wounded as miscreants hurled two crude bombs around 8:00pm.
Ovi, 19, a first-year student of Kabi Nazrul Govt College, and Jibon, an employee at a shop, were under treatment at the DMCH.
A portion of Ovi's face was blown away when a cocktail hit him, witnesses said.
Amid such a situation, the BNP-led 20-party combine observes a 12-hour countrywide hartal today, protesting the gun attack on BNP chairperson's adviser Reaz Rahman on Monday night.
In Feni, a Jubo League man was beaten to death allegedly by pro-blockade pickets in Sonagazi upazila on Tuesday night.
Police, accompanied by some Jubo League activists, chased a group of blockaders after they vandalised three auto-rickshaws near Bhairab Chowdhury Bazar around 9:00pm, said witnesses.
As the law enforcers left the spot, the blockaders swooped on Jubo League activists Belal Hossain, 24, and Mobarak Hossain. They beat them up with sticks and left the spot when locals rushed to rescue the two.
The two were taken to Feni Sadar Hospital. As Belal's condition deteriorated, doctors referred him to Chittagong Medical College Hospital. But he died on way to the CMCH.
In Chittagong, an activist of Islami Chhatra Shibir, student wing of Jamaat, was crushed to death by a truck which he allegedly tried to torch on Chittagong-Cox's Bazar Highway in Lohagara upazila early yesterday.
Md Jubayer, 21, was run over by the Chittagong-bound truck from Cox's Bazar when he and a few other Shibir men tried to torch it in Chunati Forest Gate area around 3:00am, said Md Shahjahan, officer-in-charge of Lohagara Police Station.
Two other Shibir men were also injured, said the OC.
Meanwhile, police detained 19 BNP and Jamaat-Shibir men from different upazilas in Chittagong.
In Bogra, pro-blockade pickets on motorbikes blasted four crude bombs targeting Bogra SA Paribahan and SA TV offices near Yakubia School intersection around noon.
In Chapainawabganj, at least two truck drivers were seriously injured when blockade supporters hurled bombs at their vehicles in Rasulpur area of Shibganj upazila.
The two trucks along with several other trucks were being guarded by law enforcers, said Moinul Islam, officer-in-charge of Shibganj Police Station.