Dhaka: Bangladesh sent in troops to guard Buddhist neighbourhoods on Monday after Muslim mobs carried out fresh attacks on temples and homes over a Facebook photo deemed offensive to Islam.
At least six temples were attacked in different neighbourhoods of the resort region of Cox’s Bazaar on late Sunday, with thousands of protestors smashing statues of Buddha before riot police used force to repel the crowds.
The weekend violence was sparked by claims that a young Buddhist man had posted a photo allegedly defaming Islam on Facebook.
“We shot rubber bullets to disperse the crowd,” said Faruk Ahmad, deputy police chief for the southeastern region.
Police said that 107 people had been arrested in connection with the violence on Saturday and Sunday night.
“This was an organised attack. We won’t spare anyone who is found to have played a role,” said Ahmad.
At least five homes were torched in the overnight violence which came after a 25,000-strong mob ran riot in Ramu, a village in the district of Cox’s Bazaar, on Saturday night, smashing temples and setting fire to dozens of homes.
The riots later spread to Patia, outside Chittagong, where mobs attacked and vandalised four temples.
Ahmad said soldiers were now patrolling Buddhist neighbourhoods and temples in Cox’s Bazaar to prevent a further outbreak of violence.
“The army and BGB (border guards) have been deployed in the trouble spots,” he said. “The situation is calm but tense.”
A senior army officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said about 1,000 troops had been deployed to Cox’s Bazaar, including 300 in Ramu.
“We have secured the temples and Buddhist areas. Our teams have set up tents for the people whose houses were burnt,” he said.
“We have adequate forces. Things are getting back to normal.”
The man at the centre of the accusations has gone into hiding after telling local media he did not post the picture on the social media site, insisting someone else had “tagged” the image on his Facebook account.
His mother and an aunt have been given police protection for their safety after the violence broke out, officials said.
Bangladesh’s interior minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir visited Ramu on Sunday, assuring the Buddhist community that the attacks would be thoroughly investigated and they would receive compensation to rebuild their temples and homes.
He said the attacks appeared to be “premeditated and a deliberate act of communal violence”.
A team of investigators, comprising government bureaucrats and police officials, began its work on Monday.
Sunil Barua, a journalist who lives in a Buddhist neighbourhood in Ramu, said two of the temples attacked over the weekend were 300 years old.
“They looted Buddha statues from the temples, and shops owned by Buddhists were also looted,” he said.
“The villages look like as if they were hit by a major cyclone.”