Muslim mob in Bangladesh torch Buddhist temples
Homes torched and Buddha statues looted after Facebook photo 'defaming Koran' sparks riot
Agence France-Presse in Dhaka, Bangladesh
Thousands of rioters have torched Buddhist temples and homes in southeastern Bangladesh after a photo posted on Facebook was deemed offensive to Islam.
The 25,000-strong mob set fire to five temples and dozens of homes in Ramu town and the adjoining villages, 350 kilometres from the capital of Dhaka, in a rare attack against the Buddhist community, officials said.
Rioters believed the photo, which allegedly defamed the Koran, was uploaded onto Facebook by a Buddhist man from the area, district administrator Joinul Bari said.
"They became unruly and attacked Buddhist houses, torching and damaging their temples from midnight to Sunday morning," he said.
"At least 100 houses were damaged. We called in army and border guards to quell the violence," he said, adding that authorities had temporarily banned public gatherings in the area to prevent further clashes.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties, and authorities did not say if any of the rioters were arrested.
The country's home minister, industries minister and national police chief rushed to the scene yesterday.
Police officer Rumia Khatun said about "25,000 Muslims chanting God is Great" first attacked a Buddhist hamlet in Ramu, torching centuries-old temples, and later stormed Buddhist villages outside the town.
Witnesses said the rioters left a trail of devastation in the Buddhist villages.
"I have seen 11 wooden temples, two of them 300 years old, torched by the mob. They looted precious items and Buddha statues from the temples. Shops owned by Buddhists were also looted," said Sunil Barua, a local journalist on the scene.
Buddhists, who make up less than one per cent of Bangladesh's 153 million population, are based mainly in southeastern districts, close to the border with Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Sectarian tensions have been running high since June when deadly clashes erupted between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar's western Rakhine state.
Although Bangladesh, where nearly 90 per cent people are Muslims, has seen deadly clashes between Muslims and Hindus in the past, sectarian clashes involving Buddhists are rare.
But in recent weeks religious sensitivities have escalated as tens of thousands of Muslims have hit the streets across the country to protest against a US-made anti-Islam film mocking the prophet Mohammed.