An elderly Buddhist monk was found hacked to death on Saturday in Bangladesh, police said, the latest in a spate of murders of religious minorities and secular activists in the Muslim-majority nation.
No group has yet claimed responsibility, although the killing in the remote southeastern district of Bandarban appeared to bear a resemblance to several recent murders by suspected Islamist militants.
A troubling rise in violence in the South Asian nation has now seen seven murders since the start of last month alone.
“Villagers found Bhante (monk) Maung Shue U Chak’s dead body in a pool of blood inside the Buddhist temple this morning. He was hacked to death,” said Jashim Uddin, deputy police chief of Bandarban.
Uddin said the monk, 75, appeared to have been attacked by at least four people at the Buddhist temple in Baishari, some 350 kilometres (220 miles) southeast of Dhaka early Saturday morning.
“We saw human footprints in the temple and found that four to five people entered the compound,” he added.
He said U Chak was living alone in the hillside temple after having recently left farming to become a full-time monk.
A top Bangladeshi human rights lawyer who is close to the country’s Buddhist community said that U Chak had received anonymous death threats.
“He became a monk just one and a half years ago. He had received death threats, but nobody took it seriously,” lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua said.
Bandarban is largely Buddhist, home to indigenous peoples who adopted the religion centuries ago.
Police district sub-inspector Anisur Rahman, who was at the scene, said that officers had not yet established a motive for the killing but that “it appeared the monk did not have any personal enemies”.
The killing comes as suspected Islamists have been blamed for or claimed responsibility in dozens of murders of minority Sufi, Shiite and Ahmadi Muslims, Hindus, Christians and foreigners in recent years.
Saturday’s murder adds to a grim toll in past weeks, with an atheist student, two gay rights activists, a liberal professor, a Hindu tailor and a Sufi Muslim leader hacked to death since last month.
The Islamic State group and a Bangladeshi branch of Al-Qaeda have said that they carried out several of the killings.
But the secular government in Dhaka denies that IS and Al-Qaeda are behind the attacks, saying they have no known presence in Bangladesh, and blames the killings on homegrown militants.
Clashes broke out in Bangladesh last week after the main Islamist party called a nationwide strike to protest against its leader’s execution for warcrimes.
Jamaat-e-Islami party president Motiur Rahman Nizami was hanged late Tuesday following his conviction for the massacre of intellectuals during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.
Bangladesh is predominantly Sunni Muslim, with small Christian and Hindu minorities.
Buddhists make up less than one percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million population.