DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Police on Wednesday accused Bangladesh's former prime minister and an opposition alliance leader of instigating a bus firebombing that killed seven people and injured 16 others as political violence is surging in the country.
Attackers threw the crude fire bombs at the packed bus as it traveled from the coastal city of Cox's Bazar to the capital, Dhaka, before dawn Tuesday during an opposition-sponsored general strike. Unlike many vehicles traveling on major roads during the blockade, the bus had no security escort from police or paramilitary border guards.
Local police chief Uttam Chakrabarty said two cases were filed, accusing 56 named suspects and another 20 who were unnamed, while former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has been named as the instigator.
Nuruzzman Howlader, another police official who filed the cases, said the attack was related to the opposition strike and it was carried out following the order of Zia.
"That's why her name has been mentioned as the instigator," Howlader said.
Zia, her aides and opposition activists have denied involvement in the bus attack but did not immediately respond to the new police accusations.
She was not one of the formal suspects named in the two cases, but Howlader said the prime accused suspect was a central leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party from Comilla, the scene of the attack.
Political attacks, mostly firebombings of vehicles, have killed at least 53 people since early January, when an opposition alliance led by Zia ordered a transportation blockade in an attempt to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down.
The two have long battled for political supremacy in the South Asian nation. Hasina last month told Parliament that, if necessary, Zia would be tried for the deaths of people killed in political violence.
Zia's party and its partners boycotted 2014 elections, which allowed Hasina to win a new, 5-year term. Hasina says new elections will not be held until 2019.
Politics have long been accompanied by chaos in Bangladesh, but the renewed violence ended a year of relative calm.
Western countries and the United Nations have called for a dialogue, but a stumbling block is the Jamaat-e-Islami party, the main partner of Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Hasina has said Zia could help initiate talks by removing Jamaat-e-Islami from her alliance.
Jamaat-e-Islami bitterly opposes Hasina, who has targeted the party's leaders in war crimes trials for their actions during Bangladesh's war of independence from Pakistan in 1971. Jamaat-e-Islami opposed the war, which was led by Hasina's father.
Eight senior Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, including party chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, have been convicted in the trials and one has been hanged.
Zia was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 but failed to hand over power peacefully. A military-backed caretaker government ruled the country before Hasina came to power in 2008 elections.