Unprecedented violence against the country's Buddhist minority has outraged Bangladeshis. Officials say they detect the hand of extremist groups in what appears to have been a pre-planned attack.
Bangladeshis appear to have been stunned by the weekend attacks against the country's Buddhists, who have lived there for generations without any known confrontation with their majority Muslim counterparts.
"Never before in our history have places of worship of a religious minority been ravaged on such a large scale and in so deliberate a manner," Mahmuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star wrote. "And this happened against a community who are among the most peaceful, docile and non-violent that we have."
Ordinary citizens who spoke with Khabar South Asia expressed similar dismay. "They're truly a gentle lot. I'm deeply saddened to see the newspaper photos of the devastation caused to their temples and homes," said Syed Zahid Hossain, a truck driver.
Numerous protest meetings and demonstrations against the violence have been held across the country. On Tuesday, several thousand people including writers, actors, educationists and students attended a rally in Dhaka, condemning the incident.
"I don't have appropriate words to describe our outrage," Syed Abul Maqsud, a respected columnist and peace activist, told Khabar. He described the mayhem as an attack on "the very foundations of our state, our values and the principles of our Liberation War."
Law enforcement agencies have swiftly moved to halt any further spread of the violence which broke out on Saturday (September 29th), as around 5,000 hooligans torched Buddhist homes and vandalised their temples in the Ramu and Ukhia upazilas (sub-districts) of Cox's Bazar. At least 12 temples were destroyed, and over 50 houses burned down in the two-day rampage.
"We're determined to end this senseless violence and bring the perpetrators to justice quickly," Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters in Dhaka on Sunday after visiting the affected areas.
"This has been a deliberate attempt to destroy communal harmony in the country and tarnish the image of the government," he added.
The attack was reportedly provoked by a Facebook photo lampooning the holy Qur'an. The Facebook posting was attributed to Uttam Kumar, a local Buddhist youth in Ramu.
But when some villagers informed Uttam over cell phone, he vehemently denied having posted the photo, saying someone had hacked his account.
Who did it?
Local people in the affected areas suggested the attacks were organised and involved rioters being brought in from elsewhere.
"At around 10 at night I noticed hundreds of people arriving at Ramu in buses and trucks. Around midnight they launched the attack which continued until the wee hours," said Akbar Ali, a villager in Ramu.
Though the investigation is in its early stages, intelligence agencies suspect extremists groups were responsible, perhaps with the involvement of Rohingya Muslims from Burma. The latter may have been seeking retribution for the persecution of Rohingyas in the Burmese state of Rakhine.
"It was preplanned. We suspect some Rohingya extremists were behind it," Cox's Bazar police chief Selim Jahangir told Khabar. He also said the police are trying to detect the perpetrators from photos taken by cell phone during the attack. Some 300 people have been arrested so far, he added.
Alamgir, the home minister, said radical Islamists "are out to foment unrest and destabilise the country". He did not provide details about which radical groups were involved.
"Religious harmony is a cardinal principle of Bangladesh and it will remain strong in future", emphatically said Industries Minister Dilip Barua, who belongs to the Buddhist community, adding, "the perpetrators and conspirators won't be able to escape justice. We will catch them."