Hajiganj mayhem began with Facebook post like previous incidents of communal violence
Like previous incidents of communal violence unleashed on minority communities, a post making the rounds on Facebook was what triggered the October 13 attacks in Chandpur's Hajiganj upazila during Durga Puja celebrations.
The post claimed that the Holy Quran was demeaned at a puja mandap in Cumilla earlier in that day. The rumour spread, making the situation in Hajiganj tense.
Minutes before Esha prayers, a group of youths from ward-11 of Hajiganj municipality gathered in Bishwa Road intersection area and brought out a procession protesting the reported incident.
The youths marched straight to Hajiganj Boro Masjid, around a kilometre from the intersection, around 8:00pm. At that time, people were streaming out of the mosque after performing their prayers. Soon, several hundred people, including many of the devotees, joined the procession, led by the youths.
The procession then went back to the intersection, took a U-turn and headed back to the mosque. As it was passing near a mandap at century-old Lakshmi Narayan Akhra -- around 200 yards from the intersection -- the youths started throwing brickbats at its gate.
More people joined the attackers and the group turned into a mob. The attack continued for several minutes. Several Muslim devotees from the mosque tried to stop the mob, but in vain.
Around the same time, brickbats flew in at the mandap over the tarpaulin from its eastern and northern sides. Hindu devotees inside cowered in fear. Some of them were hurt.
The mandap had a CCTV camera but a gate erected right in front of it blocked the view.
Police swung into action within 10 minutes. Initially, they fired teargas canisters and shots in the air to drive the mob away. But the mob did not budge and started throwing bricks at the law enforcers, who took position at the mandap gate. At least 15 policemen were injured.
At one stage, police fired bullets to disperse the attackers. Three people were killed. Two other injured died later -- one of them at Dhaka Medical College yesterday.
The Daily Star has pieced together the sequence of events in Hajiganj after talking to several dozen locals, including members of the temple management committee, political leaders, police, and watching video clips of the incident.
"The attacks were definitely pre-planned," Sohel Mahmud, additional superintendent of police (Hajiganj circle), told this newspaper.
"It is because the zealots did not stop after swooping on that mandap. They attacked 13 more mandaps in Hajiganj upazila till 1:00am."
The extent of the subsequent attacks was not as severe as the one on Lakshmi Narayan Akhra, he said, adding that there were 28 puja mandaps in the upazila in total.
Around 9:20pm that night, zealots also hurled brickbats at the Hajiganj Police Station. Most members of the police station were guarding the mandaps at that time.
Three cases were filed against around 2,000 people in connections with the incidents, said Harun-or-Rashad, officer-in-charge of Hajiganj Police Station. Police have arrested 15 people so far, he said.
The communal attacks in Cox's Bazar's Ramu in 2012, Pabna's Santhia in 2013 and Brahmanbaria's Nasirnagar in 2016 had followed a similar pattern. Mobs launched the attacks after being incited on social media.
Communal attacks have been carried out against Hindus in at least 13 districts since the Cumilla incident on October 13.
THE FACEBOOK POST
A post claiming that the Holy Quran was demeaned in Cumilla was uploaded from a Facebook ID under the name of Ariyan Sajjad. Several others were tagged in that post.
According to information available on the Facebook profile, Sajjad is a member of Hajiganj municipality Chhatra League. The pro-Awami League organisation, however, said it had nothing to do with Sajjad.
Mehdi Hasan Rabby, general secretary of the BCL unit, said Sajjad did not belong to the organisation. "He misused the name of BCL," Rabby said.
He also said he took Sajjad and another youth named Hridoy Hassan Zahid to the Hajiganj circle's additional superintendent of police hours before the attacks on the ASP's instruction.
Police reprimanded the two and let them go, he said.
Asked, ASP Sohel Mahmud acknowledged the matter.
"We monitored the two youths' Facebook activities and found that Sajjad uploaded the post and the other youth liked it," he said.
"But we let them go because they were underage and they deleted the posts in front of us. We also found similar posts uploaded by others on the social media platform," he said.
The Daily Star could not independently verify who was the first to upload the post.
Sajjad and Hriody were not found in Hajiganj. One of their friends claimed they were in police custody. This claim could not be verified.
According to locals and police sources, most of the youths who led the procession were residents of ward-11 on the outskirts of Hajiganj upazila.
The area is dominated by BNP-Jamaat supporters, they said.
Locals claimed that they saw BNP men in the procession that night.
Police remain tight-lipped about the attackers, but said they have arrested some and were trying to arrest all those involved in the mayhem.
Three of the five killed in Thursday's clash were from Randhunimora village, which falls under the ward.
The deceased were identified as Ridoy, 14, Al Amin, 18, and Shamim, 18.
Ridoy's father Fazlul Haque said, "I saw my son scrolling through the news feed of his Facebook account. He was lying on his bed after saying his Maghrib prayers. Around 7:00pm, one of his friends came and took him to join a procession in Bishwa Road intersection.
"I asked him to stop but he said he would come back soon."
Later that night, Fazlul, who was a former expatriate in Kuwait, learned that Ridoy was shot in the head. "I blame nothing but my fate for all of this," he said.