Arson attack on bus kills 9
Bomb hurled on transport in several city areas
Unknown assailants carried out an arson attack on a double-decker bus in front of Dhaka Sheraton Hotel, killing nine passengers including a two-year-old girl and injuring 15 in one of a series of assaults on public transport in the capital last night.
The flames soon leapt to both decks of the state-owned BRTC bus on the Gulistan-Mirpur route, prompting most passengers to storm out except for the nine who got trapped inside.
Police and witnesses said six people were incinerated in the bus, a fire-burnt man jumped to death on the street and two others including a two-year-old child died from injuries at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).
Three of the nine dead are identified as Meem, 2,Yasmin, 25, and Tahura, 27. Thirteen of the 15 injured admitted to the DMCH are Meem’s mother Monwara, 22, Wahed, 14, Abdur Rahim, 35, Abul Kalam, 45, Rowshan Ara, 30, her son Rony, 12, Alamgir, 14, Jognu Akhter, 18, Mustafiz, 40, Saidur, 22, Babu, 8, Kabir, 40, and Rabbi, 4.
The fire left the bus in a charred, blackened metal structure, burning out all seats and other flammables before fire fighters could douse the blaze.
“I have no idea who carried out the grisly attack, but they are very cold-blooded murderers who worked to a well-orchestrated plan,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Commissioner Ashraful Huda told reporters after the arson.
“This sort of incidents take place before every hartal and you also know the perpetrators,” he said.
Terming the incident a bestial one, the DMP commissioner said, “The nature of the fire suggests the killers poured gunpowder on both decks of the bus before setting it on fire.”
A string of bomb attacks on public transports was also reported in other areas of the city last night, hours before a 24-hour countrywide opposition strike from 6:00am today and visit of US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the afternoon.
The attacks largely came on buses and minibuses near Mirpur Heart Foundation Hospital, National Zoo, Pallabi, Rampura TV Station, Mugda and Shyampur.
Explosions also rocked Gulshan-1, Shukrabad, Gabtali, Motijheel and Paltan areas.
The double-decker, coming from Minto Road direction, caught fire soon after it reached the road stretch in front of the hotel, unfolding a scene of horror.
“Sitting close to the driver, I saw fire behind the driver’s seat all on a sudden which was fast spreading,” 35-year-old Rahima Begum said, adding she rushed out of the bus with her son Ali.
As the bus driver sped, fire engulfed the vehicle and the busload of passengers including men, women and children found it difficult to come out through an exit and half-closed windows.
“The fire caught my wife Yasmin and burnt her alive before my eyes on the upper deck,” said Abdur Rahim, driver of an autorickshaw, bursting into tears.
“But I didn’t lose my sense and whisked my niece Litu off the bus,” said Rahim, who took the vehicle at Gulistan for Mirpur-12.
Meem, who was on the upper deck with her mother and other relatives, was incinerated on her mother’s lap. Her mother Monwara, 22, survived the blaze with serious burns all-over and is now being treated at the DMCH.
Meem’s aunt Rowshan Ara and her 12-year-old son Rony also suffered burns before falling on the street from the bus amid a crushing scramble.
Her cousin Jognu Akhter, 18 and Alamgir, 14, also received injuries jumping to the street from the upper deck.
The fire left Wahed, 13, all burnt and he was fighting a grim battle with death with little hope for his life.
Rana, an 11-year-old boy who survived the inferno, said: “All on a sudden we saw a red flame leaping from just behind the driver’s seat.”
“My elder brother Badal and myself could jump out of the exit, leaving masses of passengers scrambling to get out of the exit behind,” he told The Daily Star, disconsolate with grief.
Habib, a bookseller, said, “The passengers were desperately pushing for the exit, but a crowd blocked the narrow staircase. I saw some trying to get out through the windows.”
“Casualty could have been lowered, had the driver stopped the bus immediately after it caught fire,” he said, adding the driver kept going on despite hearing screams.
Sergeant Rakibuddin, who was on duty near the crossing, said, “Flames engulfed the whole bus in a moment.”
“Seeing passengers trying to escape through the door, I shouted at them to jump through the windows,” Rakibuddin said, adding he saved two who jumped down.