A Briton was among three suspected Islamist militants arrested by Bangladesh’s elite security force on Tuesday (18) over the murder of two prominent atheist bloggers.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) spokesmen said they arrested Touhidur Rahman, 58, and two other “active members” of the Islamic group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which was banned in May over a series of killings of bloggers.
“We have arrested them in the capital (Dhaka) today. We can confirm that Rahman is a Bangladesh-origin British citizen. He is the main planner of the attacks on Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das,” Major Maksudul Alam of the RAB said.
“He told us that he is a British citizen,” said Mufti Mahmood, the head of the RAB’s legal and media division.
Four secular bloggers have been hacked to death in Muslim-majority Bangladesh since the start of the year, including Roy and Das. The killings have sparked an international outcry and protests mainly by secular activists in the capital.
Roy, a US citizen who was born in Bangladesh, was murdered in February by a gang wielding machetes in Dhaka. Das, 33, was killed in similar fashion as he headed to work at a bank in the northeastern city of Sylhet on May 13.
After studying IT, Rahman worked for about 22 years in Britain before moving to Bangladesh where he became a top aide to ABT’s firebrand spiritual leader Jasimuddin Rahmani, according to Mahmood.
“He came to Bangladesh in 2012 and did not go back. He told us that in England, he lived in east London,” Mahmood said.
Police described the unmarried Rahman as the main planner of the attacks as well as the “main financier” of ABT, whose members are mostly students from private universities.
Rahman shadowed Roy and Das in the days before their deaths, after ABT’s spiritual leader ordered the group to carry out the killings, according to Mahmood.
“He used to monitor the targets and their movements. He confessed to us that he also helped Ansarullah Bangla Team financially in different ways,” he said.
Rahmani is currently in jail in connection with the killing of another blogger in 2013, officials said.
A British Foreign Office spokesman in London said it was aware of reports of a British citizen’s arrest and was seeking more information from Bangladeshi authorities.
The other two suspects arrested by the RAB are Sadek Ali, 28, who police accuse of taking part in both murders and Aminul Mollick, 35, who is accused of helping ABT members flee the country by making them fake passports.
Bangladesh police last week also arrested two suspected members of the group for the murder of Niloy Chakrabarti. He became the fourth blogger to be killed when he was hacked to death at his home on August 7.
Chakrabarti, who used the pen-name Niloy Neel, had posted on Facebook months before his death that he had been followed by two men, but police refused to register the complaint and instead told him to leave the country.
The other victim was 27-year-old secular blogger Washiqur Rahman, who was killed in Dhaka four months ago.
In a recent petition to prime minister Sheikh Hasina, authors including Sir Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood called on her “to do all in their power to ensure the tragic events… are not repeated”.