Traffic in the capital’s northern part was brought to its knees throughout yesterday as a faction of Tabligh Jamaat blocked the busiest Airport Road, protesting the arrival of the religious group’s top scholar from India to attend Biswa Iftema that begins in Tongi on Saturday.
Followers of the faction, mostly belonging to radical Islamist group Hefajat-e Islam, sat on the road and chanted slogans against Maulana Saad Kandhalvi for his “controversial comments about Quaran and Sunnah.”
Thousands of city dwellers, especially officer-goers, students and travelers suffered badly as they remained stranded on the road for hours.
Most of yesterday’s domestic and international flights were delayed as captains, crew members and passengers all got stuck in the traffic chaos, airlines officials said.
Many had to walk a couple of miles with heavy language to reach the airport or other destinations such as office, school and college.
It began around 9:00am when one faction of the group took position on the road before the airport. Soon, the tailback on the busy thoroughfare extended up to Banani in the south and Tongi in the north as more of their men joined the protest.
A large group of them blocked the entrance of the VIP terminal, hearing that Saad landed at the airport around 12:00pm. They were seen checking vehicles in efforts to prevent Saad’s departure from the airport.
In the process, most of those who came from abroad suffered. Rehana is one of them. She landed from Dubai at 12:30pm but could not come out of the airport for over three hours.
Her husband hired a car to go to their village home in Faridpur. But he had to abandon the car as it did not move an inch in more than half an hour. Later, they were seen waiting with several luggage on the footpath near the airport roundabout.
Aminur Islam and five other youths from Naogaon arrived at Mohakhali Bus Terminal around 9:00am to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia. Sensing trouble on the road, they started for the airport around 1:15pm although their flight was to depart at 11:00pm.
“After coming to Banani, our bus got stuck. We had to walk the whole way,” Aminur told The Daily Star at 4:30pm near the airport.
After spending several hours on the road, Arifa Monjoor picked up her two kids form The Aga Khan School in Uttara round 3:00pm. At the time of filing this report at 9:00pm, she was still on her Gulshan home.
Biman Bangladesh Airlines General Manager (public relations) Shakil Meraj said almost all domestic and international flights scheduled to fly between 10:00am to 8:00pm were affected.
“The flights were delayed for 30 minutes to one hour,” he told The Daily Star last night.
On average, 130 international and domestic flights, both outgoing and inbound, operate through the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport daily, sources said.
Many sufferers came down heavily on the government and the police for allowing the demonstrators to occupy such a vital road for so many hours.
At 9:50pm, Shahriar, who works in Farmgate, wrote on his Facebook, “Already five hours since I left office. Still don’t know when I would reach home [Uttara].”
Vehicles started moving after the agitators left the road at 4:30pm. But the congestions that spilled over to different roads remained till 10:00pm.
Before leaving the street, Mufti Mahfuzul Haque, principal of Jamia Rahmania Qwami Madrasha in the city’s Mohammadpur, said they would block the Kakrail mosque, the headquarters of Bangladesh chapter of Tablighi Jamaat, so that Moulana Saad, who was staying at the mosque, could not come out.
“We told the government to send him back to India. We will allow Moulana Saad to come out of the mosque only if he wants to go back,” said Mahfuzul, joint secretary general of Hefajat-run Qwami Madrasa Education Board.
Maulana Afsar Ali, vice-president of the same education board and the second man in Hefajat after Maulana Shafi, and Maulana Abdul Quddus, secretary general of the board, were among other top Hefajat leaders present during the protest.
A large number of police and Rab members were deployed outside the mosque in the afternoon.
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