Police officials in Dhaka suspect an arson attack and said they are seeking out the culprits.
At least four people have been killed and others injured in Bangladesh after a passenger train caught fire in a suspected arson attack, according to police officials.
The incident on Friday adds to a tense environment in the country in advance of Sunday’s elections, which the opposition is seeking to boycott and disrupt with a general strike.
Fire service officer Rakjibul Hasan said that at about 9pm (15:00 GMT), at least four coaches caught fire on the Benapole Express, which was arriving in the capital Dhaka from the western city of Jessore. The fire rapidly raced through the train.
Residents initially tried to put the fire out, before seven fire engines joined the extinguishing efforts, Khandaker al-Moin of the Rapid Action Battalion unit of the police said at the scene. It took nearly two hours to douse the blaze, he said.
Mohid Uddin, deputy chief of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, described the incident as act of planned sabotage to create panic among the citizens before the elections.
“We will definitely find out the culprits involved in such heinous attacks,” Uddin said.
Police chief Anwar Hossain also told the AFP news agency, “We suspect the fire incident was an act of sabotage,” without giving more details.
An unnamed rescuer told private broadcaster Somoy TV that hundreds had rushed to pull people out of the burning train.
“We rescued many. But the fire spread quickly,” he said. Somoy TV said some Indian citizens were also travelling on the train.
Bangladesh has frequently experienced violence surrounding elections, and Sunday’s voting comes amid an increasingly polarised political culture led by two powerful women – current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, an opposition leader currently under house arrest.
This year, following Hasina’s refusal to accept Zia’s Bangladesh National Party’s (BNP) demands for a neutral caretaker government to conduct the polls, the BNP has chosen to boycott the elections.
Meanwhile, at least three people have been killed in violence attributed to political clashes since the election campaigning officially began on December 18.
Campaigning officially came to an end on Friday morning, but there is widespread speculation that this vote – which could see Hasina win a fourth consecutive and a fifth overall term in office – will be tampered with.
The international community has expressed concern over the conduct of the vote.
Charles Whiteley, the European Union ambassador to the country, said in a letter to the Bangladesh Election Commission that the bloc would not send a full observer team, because “it is not sufficiently clear whether the necessary conditions will be met.”
The UN Secretary-General’s Associate Spokesperson Florencia Soto Nino in New York said on Wednesday, “We’re watching the process closely, and we hope that all elections happen in a transparent and organised manner.”
On Thursday, Hasina, addressing a huge campaign rally at Fatullah near Dhaka, urged all to maintain peace.
The Election Commission has announced polling will be held in 299 constituencies out of 300 across the country on Sunday.