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Last Updated: Monday, 29 August 2005, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Dhaka struggles to respond to bombs

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Dhaka

Police with bomb device in Bangladesh
The bombs went off simultaneously in 63 of the country's 64 districts
The recent multiple bomb attacks have thrown the government in Bangladesh off guard, with ministers struggling to find a coordinated response, analysts say.

Foreign diplomats say they have been surprised that they were not quickly briefed about the 400 small bomb attacks across the country on 17 August.

Sixty-three of the country's 64 districts were affected in attacks claimed by the banned Islamic group, Jamatul Mujahideen.

"Usually after any major incident they'll call all the heads of mission into the foreign ministry to reassure them, say 'please don't alter your travel advice, please don't tell your investors not to come'," said one diplomat in Dhaka.

"This time they have not done that. Read into it what you will."

A spokesman for the foreign ministry says ambassadors will now be briefed this week.

'Under control'

The bombings have left the government facing a number of questions, not least why it did not crack down on religious extremists earlier.

The government is confused about what position they want to take
Mohammed Jehangir, analyst

For years, despite a series of explosions and killings, ministers denied there were any militants in the country.

In February the government changed its position, and banned two Islamic organisations.

Jamatul Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh were alleged to have been behind blasts at the offices of aid agencies.

After a number of arrests, ministers then said militants were under control.

Protest in Dhaka
The attacks sparked protests from opposition parties

But leaflets in the name of Jamatul Mujahideen were found at the blast sites on 17 August.

And the police have said their investigation is focusing on the group.

So far 160 people have been detained and it is reported that some of them have confessed to links with Jamatul Mujahideen.

Bangladesh is governed by a four-party alliance that includes two Islamic parties, Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote.

Analyst, Mohammed Jehangir, of the Centre for Development Communication, says: "The government is confused about what position they want to take.

"Our government is a coalition government, so it is very difficult to take a position against fundamentalists or extremists, because the fundamentalists are with them.

"If they say extremists are responsible, members of the coalition will be angry and they will have internal problems."

Jamaat-e-Islami and Islami Oikya Jote have insisted they have nothing to do with the blasts, and that they are opposed to violence.


Journalists are finding it difficult to gain access to ministers.

The BBC has made repeated requests for an interview since the blasts, but no minister in charge of a department involved in the investigation has been available.

Police bring two unidentified suspects for interrogation in Dhaka
About 160 people have been detained since the bombings

Local media organisations have had the same problem.

"Every day I have tried Lutfozzaman Babar (minister for Home Affairs) and other senior ministers - and nothing," said one senior reporter in Dhaka.

Mr Babar was criticised for his comments to journalists in the immediate aftermath of the bombings.

He said the government had information that an attack might take place on the 14, 15 or 16 August. When it did not happen security was reduced and the bombers struck the next day.

There was further criticism when two cabinet ministers appeared to disagree publicly about the blasts.

Industries Minister Moulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, also the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, told reporters that the Research and Analysis Wing of the Indian secret service might have been responsible.

Later Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan, from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, told reporters that Moulana Nizami's views were those of Jamaat-e-Islami, not the government.

Opposition leaders said the men had broken the principle of cabinet collective responsibility and one of them should go.

Neither lost his job, but since then ministers have appeared reluctant to speak to the press.

The government finally directed a senior bureaucrat to answer the BBC's questions.

"I don't agree that there is any problem with the government," said Zahirul Haque, the director general of external publicity at the foreign ministry.

"Of course they will speak as and when they feel it is necessary. But at the moment it is not possible on my part to say why they are not talking."

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