100,000 Muslim clerics rally against extremism

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Dhaka: More than 100,000 clerics and preachers rallied in the Bangladeshi capital against Islamist extremism Thursday after a resurgence of attacks by militant groups in the Muslim-majority nation.

Organisers said the rally was staged to protest a violent ‘power grab’ in the name of Islam in Muslim majority Bangladesh, where a rise in Islamist extremism has sparked international concern.

The rally followed suicide attacks on Bangladeshi security forces that sparked a series of raids in which nearly two dozen suspected extremists were killed.

Police said Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addressed more than 100,000 clerics in a park in central Dhaka where two top Saudi Arabian clerics delivered sermons against extremism.

‘There is no place for terror and extremism in Islam,’ Shaikh Mohammed bin Naser Al Khujaim, a senior cleric from Mecca, told the rally.

‘Muslims across the world must stand firm against this terror and extremism.’

Dhaka police shut down major roads leading to the park and asked people to avoid busy shopping malls as they stepped up security for the rally.

Analysts say Islamist militants pose a growing danger in conservative Bangladesh, where a long-running political crisis has radicalised opponents of the government.

Hasina’s government has blamed the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a banned Islamist group, for a wave of deadly attacks against religious minorities and foreigners.

Many, including last year’s attack on an upmarket cafe in Dhaka in which 22 people including 18 foreign hostages were killed, have also been claimed by the Islamic State group.

The relative lull which followed that attack was broken recently by twin blasts in the northeastern city of Sylhet where army commandos had stormed a suspected militant hideout.

The explosions fatally injured the intelligence chief of the Rapid Action Battalion — the elite force at the forefront of the fight against Islamist militancy — dealing a major blow to the security forces.