Bangladesh witnessed a unique form of Islamic violence on August 17th, when over 200 small bombs went off, within minutes of each other, all over the country, killing two people and wounding over a hundred. No one took credit for the attack, but at the scene of many of the bombings, police found leaflets from the banned (last February) Islamic radical group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen. Police have arrested nearly a hundred Islamic militants, as suspects, so far. The police had received information about such a mass bombing, that was supposed to take place in mid August, but did not take it seriously. No one believed that any Islamic terror group could pull off such a widespread and well coordinated operation. They do now, and people are scared.
The bombs were placed in the street, in front of government buildings, train stations and commercial enterprises (including market places). The placement, and small size of the explosives, appeared aimed at causing panic, not mass murder. There have been some 400 similar bombings since 1999, mostly unclaimed and low powered. But never have there been so many bombs going off at once. Bangladesh has long history of political violence, mostly in the form of violent demonstrations. These are in the name of democratic parties contending for votes. But Islamic radical groups like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen are advocating the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Bangladesh, and throughout the world.
Five unexploded bombs were recovered. All used a battery powered timer, attached to a small quantity of explosives (think several large firecrackers tied together.) Many were contained in small paper bags, and witnesses remember seeing young men leave them behind shortly before they went off.
The current government of is a coalition, which contains several Islamic conservative parties, and is seen as reluctant to crack down on the growing number of Islamic militant groups. This may change now, as this mass bombing certainly terrorized a large number of people. The current mayhem in Iraq, with hundreds of civilians killed by Islamic terrorists each month, is widely publicized in Bangladesh by the Islamic media. This violence has horrified people, and discredited Islamic extremists.
Despite the violence, the democracy in Bangladesh works. Despite the Islamic conservatives in the current government, there are crack downs on Moslem schools that teach intolerance towards the ten percent of the country's 141 million citizens who are not Moslem (most of these are Hindu). Culturally, Bangladesh is closer to Indonesia than Pakistan. This means that the Islam is less radical to begin with, and Islamic radicals stand out more starkly in a country that is less tolerant of extremism. But the Islamic radicals do have a following. Bangladesh is a poor, corrupt country, and the Islamic radicals promise clean government and public safety. It remains to be seen if these promises can outweigh the distaste for Islamic terrorism.