Attack on Hindus not communal issue, but conspiracy, says Bangladesh home minister

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The recent attacks against Hindus in Bangladesh is not a communal issue but a "conspiracy" to malign the country's image, its home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said on Tuesday, adding that investigators were pursuing leads and would soon apprehend the "conspirators".

Speaking to News18 over the phone from Dhaka, Khan said the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government will take stern action against those behind the "heinous conspiracy".

At least six people have died in the attacks against Hindus in some of the worst such unrest for over a decade in the country. The violence began on Friday when a Facebook live allegedly showed a blasphemous incident at a Durga Puja pandal in Comilla city, sparking protests. Several Hindu religious sites have been vandalised, and homes attacked.

Authorities have filed 71 cases in connection with the violence and have so far arrested 450 suspected culprits.

"We condemn such incidents during Durga Puja in Bangladesh. It's never happened before as people celebrate all festivals here with joy and happiness. Why it happened suddenly is a matter of concern," Khan told News18.

"We have got several leads and all of them point towards a conspiracy to malign the image of Bangladesh. I would like to clarify that we are going to take stern action against anyone who is behind the heinous conspiracy. In a day or two, things will be clear as we manage to dig out some leads and the conspirators behind it," the Bangladesh home minister added.

Communal tensions have long simmered in Bangladesh, whose constitution designates Islam as the state religion but also upholds the principle of secularism. Hindus make up around 10 percent of the population.

Several Awami League leaders have blamed the violence on the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami citing national elections in 2023.

Cautious on the speculation, Khan said, "It is too early to make such comments, but we are not ruling out anything till we hunt down the key conspirators€¦ As per (investigation) leads, it was not a communal issue but a pre-planned one by some miscreants. This was not the handiwork of people belonging to any religious group, but it's a conspiracy by people who don't want Bangladesh to grow."

Khan, however, added that the government has also sought social media giant Facebook's cooperation in the investigation. "We have found that such propaganda mostly originates from America and England.

Asked if he has had a conversation with Indian counterpart Amit Shah on the issue, Khan said it's Bangladesh's "internal matter".

"It's our internal matter. If India wants to know anything, we will certainly inform them through proper diplomatic channels. So far, no one has asked anything regarding this matter. All I can say is that the situation is under control as we have arrested hundreds of people behind the incident. In the last 24 hours, we have arrested more than 70 people," Khan said.

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