The attack in Sholakia left two police officers dead. Copyright Columbian.com

The attack in Sholakia left two police officers dead. Copyright Columbian.com

Fears have been renewed once more over safety in Bangladesh after a second attack in less than a week resulted in the death of four people, including two police officers.

The attack took place during a religious Eid gathering yesterday morning (7 July) at around 8.45am in Sholakia, north of the capital Dhaka, where 300,000 worshippers had congregated. According to local media reports, a group of up to seven men attacked police guarding the festival around an hour before prayers were due to begin.

Homemade bombs were said to have been thrown at a police checkpoint killing two officers and a female bystander. An assailant was killed during the attack and around 12 others are said to have been injured. Four of the attackers were arrested following the gun battle.

There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but it is thought to have been a political move to destabilise the secular government of Sheikh Hasina and establish Islamic rule in the Muslim-majority nation.

The tragedy comes less than a week after an attack by Islamic extremists on an upmarket restaurant in Dhaka resulted in the killing of 20 people – many of whom worked in the country's textile and clothing industry.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) claimed responsibility for Saturday's killings, although the Bangladeshi government insists local groups were responsible. One of those involved in leading the attack is understood to be the son of Imitaz Khan Babul, a politician and leader of Bangladesh's governing party, the Awami League Party.

The attack has left the country's key garment industry in turmoil, with buyers rethinking travel plans and potential economic fallout for a sector reliant on foreign investment. Observers say the sector must now join with the government in taking a lead on security and economic issues if it is to continue to thrive and attract customers.

Bangladesh's garment sector is one of the world's largest, employing around 4.4m and accounting for around 82% of the country's total exports. Sarah Labowitz, co-director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, said following the weekend's tragedy that the attack could test the strength of Bangladesh's US$26bn garment sector if it deters foreign buyers from travelling to the country.

"This is a tipping point in Bangladesh and what you really need now is leadership and governance from local industry, on the security front and on an economic front," she told just-style. "The pressure is on the industry and on the government to lead and to have governance of both the security issues and the RMG issues so that the industry can continue to thrive, grow and create jobs."

Some international buyers had postponed trips to Bangladesh in October last year after an Italian aid worker and a Japanese citizen were shot dead close to where the weekend's attack took place. Earlier this week, Fast Retailing Co, the Japanese owner of casual-wear brand Uniqlo, said it will suspend all but critical travel to Bangladesh, while UK retailer Marks & Spencer, and Sweden's Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) said they were monitoring the situation. 

Terrorist attack "a tipping point" for Bangladesh?

International human and civil rights organisation the Ansar Burney Trust has condemned yesterday's attack, adding: "The violence has shaken the country, as it appears to be the first attempt at a major attack directed entirely at Muslims. With sorrow, grief and pain, [we] strongly condemn [the] terrorist attack in Bangladesh."