Around nine months ago, the mosque committee of Baitus Salat Jame Masjid in Narayanganj's Fatullah had informed the Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited's zonal office about a leakage in a gas pipe that was beneath the mosque's ground floor.
Unfortunately, the Titas Gas Limited did not pay any heed to the mosque committee's complaint as they could not pay the TK50,000 in bribes, claimed the Mosque Committee President Abdul Gafur, also a member of the local union parishad.
At least 23 people died and 14 others were injured as leaked gas caused an explosion, which consequently exploded six air conditioners inside the mosque during Isha prayer on Friday night.
Dr Samanta Lal Sen, coordinator of Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery, told The Business Standard, "Twenty other people with burn injuries are in a critical condition. We are doing our best to save them."
Talking to The Business Standard on Saturday afternoon, Abdul Gafur claimed that they had complained about the issue in writing to the Titas Gas's local office once in December last year and again they made a verbal complaint in August this year.
"Their negligence and greed for money claimed so many lives. Who will be responsible for this now?" asked Abdul while breaking into tears.
The zonal officials of Titas gas declined to make any comment regarding the matter.
However, the Managing Director of Titas Gas Ali Mohammad Al Mamun denied the allegations made by the mosque committee and told The Business Standard on Saturday that there was no authorised gas pipeline at the mosque.
"If it was an illegal line we will investigate the matter and bring the culprits to justice. But Titas officials never received any such complaint, not in writing nor in verbal format. Even if someone complains verbally, we register the issue, but I can say we did not receive any such complaints in this case," he added.
The Baitus Salat Jame Masjid's building was a tin-shed structure in the 1990s and it was turned into a brick building in 2000. Gradually its first two floors were completed and the work to construct the third floor has been going on.
Apparently, the gas pipeline has been under the floor of the mosque all these years, but the mosque committee came to know of its existence a few months ago, claimed Abdul Gafur.
Director General of Fire Service and Civil Defense Brigadier General Sajjad Hossain visited the spot and said, "Primarily we can say that the gas leakage turned the entire mosque into a gas chamber on that night. We are also investigating the matter thoroughly regarding the electricity lines also."
Narayanganj Fire Service's deputy director Abdullah al-Arefin also told the Business Standard that they suspect gas accumulated inside the mosque.
He said there might have been a lot of gas inside the mosque due to a leak in that pipe. In this case, the explosion occurred as soon as someone switched on some electric equipment inside the mosque. The fire spread quickly from there. Then the air conditioners of the mosque also exploded.
Many locals said they often smelled gas as they passed beside the mosque, around which there are four gas valves.
When the firefighters rushed to the spot and saw gas leaking from a pipeline running under the floor of the mosque, they closed the gas supply.
"Either the gas pipeline is illegal or the design of the mosque and building the mosque upon a gas line was a faulty decision, these matters should be brought under investigations," he said
However, Titas Gas authorities sent staff to the mosque for maintenance after the incident. The staff claimed that they did not receive any complaint regarding the gas problem inside the mosque prior to the incident.
Meanwhile, a team of Bomb Disposal Unit of Counter Terrorism Investigation Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police visited the spot at Saturday morning and found the burnt switch board of the electricity supply line of the mosque.
The team will also submit a report following the blast. Additional Deputy Commissioner and In-charge of the Bomb Disposal Unit Rahmatullah Chowdhury told The Business Standard that they may come to a conclusion about the reason of fire within a few days.
Condolences and probe
President Mohammad Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have expressed deep grief over the loss of lives in this tragic incident and wished the injured people a quick recovery.
Narayanganj district administration has formed a five-member committee to investigate the explosion, said the District Superintendent of Police (SP) Mohammad Zayedul Alam while visiting the National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery on Saturday.
The committee has additional district magistrate, additional superintendent of police (crime), officials from Titas Gas, Power Department and fire service.
SP Mohammad Zayedul Alam further said, "The bodies of those who were killed in the fire incident will be handed over to their relatives without autopsy. However, if the family members of the deceased have any objection, they can inform the authorities."
"A case will be filed under section 304 over the incident," he added.
What we know so far about the tragic incident
Around 150 people were attending the prayer when the explosion, triggered by a gas leak, ripped through the mosque. All six air conditioners in the mosque exploded at the same time and glasses of the windows shattered in the blast.
Mosque committee president Gafur Mia said, "After hearing the sound of the huge explosion, I along with some local people rushed to the mosque."
"We saw smoke was belching out of the mosque and many people got burned severely. Some of them were screaming and rolling on the road in front of the mosque."
"We took 40 injured people to the Narayanganj Hospital. Later doctors there sent the critical patients to Dhaka, he added.