Dhaka — An Islamic sect whose members are seen as heretics by mainstream Muslims Thursday shifted the site for its centenary celebrations in Bangladesh after thousands of religious rivals torched the original venue.
A mob, which witnesses said numbered around 20,000, attacked the venue at Kaliakoir, near Dhaka, late Wednesday where members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat were due to mark 100 years since the movement began operating in what is now Bangladesh.
"They attacked the venue from all corners, shouting Allahu Akbar (God is greater). They torched the canopy, tents and stage," Sanjit Kumar, a senior police official, told AFP.
"We fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the mob, but it was so huge that we could not protect the venue," he said, adding that one person was injured after he was beaten up.
Founded in 1889 in India, the Ahmadiyya differ with most Muslims by considering the movement's founder to be a messiah. Pakistan in 1974 adopted a law to brand the community as non-Muslims.
In Bangladesh, where 90 percent of the country's 153 million people are Muslims, there is no such law. But Islamic parties and top clerics have long demanded the government declare them non-Muslims.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat's Bangladesh spokesman Tabshir Chowdhury alleged that despite repeated request for more security, only a few policemen were sent to protect the venue, situated 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the capital.
"We got government approval for the three-day meet where 10,000 of our members, including 200 foreign guests, were invited," he told AFP.
"When we saw mob was building up and threatening to attack the venue, we asked for more security."
He said the venue for the celebrations had been shifted to the group's headquarters in Dhaka.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat has been the victim of several attacks in recent years, including last November when a Muslim mob in a northern district vandalised a mosque and torched several houses belonging to the sect members.