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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Movie Theater Bombs Kill 18 in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Bangladesh arrested dozens of opposition activists after bombs ripped through cinemas in a northern town, killing 18 people and injuring about 300 as families celebrated the end of the Muslim fasting month, officials said Sunday.

A senior government minister said earlier the al-Qaida network might be responsible for Saturday's blasts in Mymenshingh, 150 kilometers north of Dhaka, the capital, but added that opposition radicals were also suspects.

The four cinemas were packed with nearly 2,000 men, women and children watching Bengali action movies when the bombs exploded.

The three-day Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, is one of the most important celebrations of the year in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Police said 21 people, including some students, had been arrested in Mymenshingh and were being interrogated. In Dhaka police took 39 members of the opposition party Awami League into custody, including a former minister.

"A total of 39 people, including former state minister Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Dhaka University teacher Muntasir Mamun and some other leaders of the Awami League, were arrested on Saturday night," an officer of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said.

Police said the people picked up in Dhaka were held for suspicious activities and were not directly linked to the Mymenshingh blasts, although they were arrested within hours of the explosions. Dhaka police gave no other details.

Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, visiting the injured in Mymensingh, urged Bangladeshis to observe mourning Monday as a mark of respect for the dead.

The Awami League condemned the arrest of its members and said the blasts were the work of radical Islamic groups.

"We condemn the arrests. ... It is a part of a conspiracy against the main opposition," said a senior leader of the Awami League, Abdus Samad Azad.

Dulal Akhand, a police officer in Mymenshingh, said 57 people, many in critical condition, were in hospitals.

"Army troops are patrolling the town. They are checking every passing vehicle," he said.

Interior Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury said the attacks could be by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network or some other terror group and he ordered a nationwide security alert.

Chowdhury also said the government's political opponents might have been behind the explosions in a bid to try to destabilize the administration.

Doctors said the bombs appeared to have been left on the cinema floors and many of the wounded lost lower limbs.

"It seems the bombs have exploded on the ground because most of the victims sustained injuries on lower portion of their body," said Zahid Hossain, secretary of the Bangladesh Medical Association.

Bangladesh has seen several bomb attacks in recent years, most blamed on domestic criminal or political gangs.

In September, bomb blasts wounded 30 people at a circus in southwestern Satkhira. At least 22 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a blast at an office of the then-ruling Awami League party in June 2001.