The death toll from a suspected gas explosion and fire at a mosque outside the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has risen to 20, police and doctors said on Saturday.
The explosion on Friday night hit as Muslim worshippers were about to end their evening prayers at the Baitus Salat Jame mosque in Narayanganj district, nearly 25 kilometres south of Dhaka, police officer Zayedul Alam said.
Thirty-seven victims with severe wounds were taken to Dhaka’s specialist burn and plastic surgery institute, he said.
Among those to die at hospital was the mosque’s imam, doctor Partha Sankar Paul told reporters, adding the death toll could rise further.
A 7-year-old boy who had burns on nearly 95 per cent of his body died hours after he was admitted to the hospital, according to Samanta Lal Sen, head of the burn institute.
Television footage showed relatives of the deceased wailing outside the hospital.
Members of the Fire Service and Civil Defence Department, who extinguished the fire, said a gas leak might have caused the explosion.
“Primarily, we are suspecting that gas accumulated from a line beneath the mosque might have caused the explosion,” said Abdullah Al Arefin from the fire service.
Six air conditioners inside the mosque also exploded, he said.
A police bomb disposal unit had collected evidence from the scene to examine the cause of the blast.
Brigadier General Sajjad Hossain, head of the Fire Service and Civil Defence department, said the state-run gas transmission and distribution agency, Titas, and the district administration had launched separate probes into the accident.
Sixteen of the bodies were handed to their respective relatives who requested not to conduct their autopsy, said local government official Nahid Barik said.
The families were given a small sum of money for conducting the rites of the deceased, he added.
The government has asked the state-run utility service providers to check power connections and air conditioning systems at all places of worship, including nearly 300,000 mosques across Bangladesh, after the fatal accident.
State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid asked a committee to report back on the situation in three days.