Islamists on Monday afternoon ran amok in the Bangladesh capital demanding release of Jamaat-e-Islami leaders detained to stand trial for war crimes.
Police detectives arrested several leaders including ATM Azaharul Islam, acting general secretary, publicity secretary Tasneem Alam, central working committee member Mohammad Ijjatullah and six other members.
Senior police officer Krishnapada Roy told journalists that fresh arrests of senior leaders were made at the Jamaat-e-Islami party headquarters on charges of assault on police, arson and vandalism.
Over 100 people, including Jamaat activists, police, journalists and pedestrians were reported wounded as protestors hurled brickbats, while police charged with batons and lobbed teargas shells to contain the worst political riot unleashed by Islamists in 10 years.
At least 20 vehicles, including police cars, commuter buses and motorbikes were torched in Dhaka as police fought a pitched battle with Jamaat-e-Islami activists and its student wing Islami Chattra Shibir, witnesses said.
The city center turned into a veritable battlefield in the wake of a government-opposition political standoff as rioters went berserk during countrywide street demonstrations.
Huge contingents of riot police were joined by elite anti-crime unit and para-military forces backed with water cannons and Armored Personnel Carriers to quell the bloody political strife.
Home Affairs minister Sahara Khatoon claimed the police have demonstrated utmost restrain and did not fire shot-guns to avoid any human casualty, he told TV reporters.
The planned agitation by Islamists came as they demanded the release of party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla and evangelist Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who were charged for crimes against humanity during the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971.
Hours before his arrest, Azaharul Islam claimed that nearly 500 activists were injured and 300 activists were arrested by police during the demonstration in the capital. About 700 people have been arrested across the country. In fact, police have launched a drive to round up the Jamaat activists across the country, he added.
By nightfall, the strife had spread into different cities of the country. News of Islamists clashes with police and arrests was being broadcast on TV news channels from various district towns.
Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at email@example.com