03/23/2010, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Boldipukur: a 500-strong mob of Muslim extremists attack Catholic church

William Gomes
Several people are injured during the attack, five seriously. Ownership over land held by the parish church is at the heart of the dispute. A local priest insists the conflict is not about religion, but that religion was used as a pretext in the case. Police are after 17 Muslims who fled following the incident.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – A mob of more than 500 Muslim extremists attacked Christ the Saviour Catholic Church in Boldipukur, Mithapukur Upazila (subdistrict), in Rangpur Division, some 335 kilometres from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. The incident, which occurred last Sunday, was triggered by a dispute over land. According to an initial account, five indigenous tribal Christians were seriously injured.

The local parish priest, Fr Leo Desai, told AsiaNews that some local Muslims have been trying to get the land in question for some years. Recently however, “a court ruled that it was owned by Catholics.”

Violence broke out when construction for a boundary wall began. The parish, which owns the land, donated it to two nearby educational institutions, the Adabashi Catholic Primary School and the Shah Abul Kasher High School. By verbal agreement, the church had already conceded the land for school use as far back as 1973.

The extremist mob attacked everyone present at the construction site. A number of people were injured during the violent incident, five seriously. Initially, they were taken to a hospital but were eventually moved to private homes to provide them with greater security.

The attackers also struck a Catholic clergyman, Fr Silas Kurju, who visiting the site at the time of the attack.

“On 19 March, a group of Muslims got together for Friday prayers and began protesting against Christians. The next day, violence broke out,” Father Leo said.

However, he is also very disappointed by the “silence” of local police who stood idly by when the extremists struck. Still, he insisted that the incident “is not a conflict between Christians and Muslims, but a dispute over land” in which religion was “only a pretext” to stir up tensions.

Law enforcement eventually began an inquiry against 17 Muslims, who fled the village. “We are tracking them and doing all we can to arrest them,” said Mithapukur Police Chief Mohammed Altaf Hossain. “We shall protect Christians if they are attacked again,” he said.

Christ the Saviour Catholic Church in Boldipukur was built in 1951. It has a congregation of some 3,600 people, mostly from tribal communities.

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