Bangladesh is terrorised by fresh spate of petrol bomb attacks

Arson attacks have revived memories of horrific fire-bombing of public transports, especially buses, before and after the 2014 polls 

Golam Mortuza
Published : 11 Nov 2023, 09:55 PM
Updated : 11 Nov 2023, 09:55 PM

Ohidur Rahman Babu, a Dhaka College student from Noakhali, used to frenetically search for his father Md Wajiullah who has been missing since 2011, reaching out to many people.

Ohidur’s hunt came to an abrupt end in 2013. He was among 19 victims critically injured in a petrol bomb attack on a bus in Dhaka's Shahbagh on Nov 28 that year. He died three days later. 

“Following my brother's death, many promised us help and compensation, but we didn't receive any money,” said his brother Mojibur Rahman Rubel, who stayed in their village. 

Later, Mamunur Rashid Kiran, the local MP of Noakhali, wrote the family a letter of recommendation for financial support. Mojibur submitted the letter to the Prime Minister’s Office in February this year. 

That was months before the ongoing blockade by the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami ahead of the next general election revived memories of horrific fire-bombing of public transports, especially buses, before and after the 2014 polls.   

Robin Matbar, a garment factory worker, died in the same bus fire in Shahbagh in 2013. 

His wife, Mosammat Mabia, was five months pregnant at that time. Robin was returning to his work in Savar after visiting Mabia in Madaripur. 

His elder brother, Noor-e-Alam, told that the family had received Tk 100,000 after Robin's death. His father took Tk 50,000, and the rest was kept for Robin's daughter. 

Robin's widow has since remarried, and their daughter is currently studying at a residential madrasa close to her mother's house. 

Nur-e-Alam said it would be of great help if the government could support this girl.

Just two days before the attack on the bus, Mozammel Haque, a 22-year-old driver, died in a fire on a Laguna van in Dhaka’s Rampura.

His brother, also a driver, Md Sohail, recalled that they were consoled at a ceremony held at the Osmani Memorial Auditorium in Dhaka, and their mother, Payara Begum, received Tk 500,000 from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund. 

At the time of the monthslong violent protests, some victims received aid from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's relief fund, but not everyone received help because there were too many people affected. 

Many families have faced a significant financial crunch, losing their primary breadwinners, while others are unable to recover from the trauma. 

People who have returned home after long hospital stays find it hard to work as efficiently as before. This has resulted in a decrease in their earnings, leading to financial strain for their families. 

Despite initial pledges of support, many families still haven't received any aid even after a decade. The families continue to seek assistance, moving from one place to another in their quest for help. 

“People in Bangladesh tend to forget past events, and it seems like the victims have been forgotten,” said Faruq Faisel, the executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra, a legal aid and human rights organisation.He said that certain political parties gain advantages from these acts of destruction. 

Faisel emphasised that those injured in such incidents deserve adequate medical treatment and support in their recovery. 

Families of those who have died should receive help, he added.

The prime minister allocated Tk 420 million on Feb 25, 2015, to support 146 vehicle owners affected by the incidents, giving up to Tk 1 million to each person. 

Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said 823 owners of damaged vehicles had applied for aid, with 287 of their vehicles burnt and 536 vandalised. 

According to him, financial aid was distributed against approximately 1,800 vehicles either burnt or damaged during the BNP-Jamaat-led general strikes and blockades before the 10th parliamentary elections, but not everyone could get help immediately.


After the elections on Jan 5, 2014, things were calm for a year. But from Jan 5, 2015, blockades and strikes made life hard again. Many vehicles, including those carrying chickens, were set on fire with petrol bombs. 

A decade later, the country's politics has again turned turbulent in the lead-up to the 12th parliamentary elections, with opposition blockades being held every week. 

Although the degree of violence during the ongoing protests does not match the intensity of the turbulence in 2013 and 2015, people are living in fear, especially since the general strike on Oct 29. 

The BNP enforced a nationwide blockade for seven days in three phases over their singular demand for replacing the Awami League administration with a non-partisan caretaker government ahead of the upcoming elections. 

The party called for a general strike after violent clashes on Oct 28 and followed it up with blockades that garnered support from like-minded parties. 

The Jamaat, a long-time ally of the party, initiated similar programmes separately. 

Many buses have been burnt during this time, along with attacks on trucks and small cars. 

One transport worker died, and another is in critical condition at a burn centre. 

The disruptions have slowed down movement in cities and inter-district, made life harder during the global economic crisis, and left those with low incomes in a tough situation. 

The government is also firm on its decision, turning down the opposition's appeal for an interim government, while the opposition has resolved to continue with its protests.


For the past decade, the government and the opposition have been blaming each other. 

The government accuses the opposition of launching reckless attacks on civilians, whereas the opposition alleges that the government, through various agencies, is orchestrating these incidents to tarnish their movement. 

In each instance, legal cases have been filed, but no one has been clearly found responsible or punished.

Human rights expert Faisel told there has not been a thorough investigation into who actually carried out these acts.

It is also unclear what kind of compensation the victims received. 

The government needs to find out who is really behind these incidents, he said. 

Sultana Kamal, a prominent human rights activist and the chairperson of Transparency International, Bangladesh, believes when a family's breadwinner dies or is unable to work, the state should offer jobs to other family members based on their skills and qualifications, to ensure their livelihood and education continue uninterrupted. 

Discussing the victims' experiences and needs, she shared with that while some victims have received financial aid, many get nothing at all. 

According to her, the process of compensation lacks established guidelines. 

The former advisor to the caretaker government suggested that prompt financial aid could be provided based on an assessment of the damage, following specific rules. 

The current method of compensation appears to be more like acts of generosity, she said.

[Writing in English by Arshi Fatiha Quazi; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]