A senior Bangladesh opposition leader said on Monday (5) the killing of two foreign nationals was a sign that law and order in the country was collapsing and the situation may get worse unless a stalemate between the two main political parties is resolved.
Security for foreign diplomats and citizens in Bangladesh was stepped up last Sunday (4) after the killing of two foreigners within a week in attacks claimed by Islamic State (IS). The group has vowed similar further assaults in the Muslim-majority nation.
Japanese citizen Kunio Hoshi, 65, was gunned down last Saturday (3) by three masked men on a motorcycle while on his way to visit a grass farm project in the northern district of Rangpur. The attack was similar to last Tuesday’s (29) shooting of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella.
After Tavella’s killing in the Gulshan neighbourhood, concerns that foreigners might be targeted prompted Western embassies to curtail the movements of diplomats in Bangladesh.
“Such trends will continue until there is some kind of political reconciliation between the two major political parties in Bangladesh,” said Abdul Moyeen Khan, a senior leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The party has staged violent protests since prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won a second consecutive term in January 2014. The BNP boycotted the election, which was deemed by international observers to be flawed.
Moyeen, a former federal minister, said there had been attempts by the international community, including the United Nations, to broker peace between the parties. But months of behind-the-scenes efforts had failed to yield results and the Awami League had refused to engage in any negotiations.
Mahbubul Alam Hanif, acting secretary general of the Awami League, blamed the opposition for the political violence and ruled out negotiations.
Attacks on foreigners are rare in Bangladesh. But the country has been convulsed by a rising tide of Islamist violence over the past year, in which four online critics of religious militancy were hacked to death, a US citizen among them.
“Extra forces have been deployed at foreign diplomats’ and citizens’ homes and workplaces across the country,” Muntasirul Islam, a deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, said.
Police have not confirmed that IS, which has ambitions to spread into south Asia, is behind the two attacks.
Police are interrogating four people for clues to Hoshi’s killing, but no arrests have been made over Tavella’s murder.
The violence could pose a fresh threat to Bangladesh’s $25-billion (£16bn) garment export industry, the economic lifeblood of the country of 160 million people. Western buyers had begun to cancel visits after Tavella’s shooting, said Shahidullah Azim, a garment exporter.
“One of my American buyers also cancelled his Dhaka visit during peak time, when buyers are supposed to place more orders,” he said.
“The killing of a Japanese citizen within a week has created more panic among foreign buyers.”
Even before last week’s murder of Kunio in the northern town of Kaunia, Australia had cancelled a tour of the cricket-mad nation over security fears.
Ali Riaz, an expert on militancy in Bangladesh who is based at Illinois State University, said: “The future of Bangladesh is at stake because if these killings continue, it will have a ripple effect on the country’s political stability and economy.”
Garments account for 80 per cent of Bangladesh’ annual exports and are the mainstay of the economy. The country is the world’s second-largest textile exporter, after China.
Bangladesh has been plagued by unrest in the last three years, a period which has seen the largest Islamist party banned.
The death sentences handed down to several leading Islamists for war crimes over their role in the 1971 conflict to secede from Pakistan have exacerbated tensions between the secular government and its opponents.
Scores of opposition activists, including Islamists, have gone missing since the start of the year when the latest round of anti-government protests erupted, with families fearing they have either been secretly detained or killed.
Veteran political analyst Ataur Rahman said the crackdown on radical Islamists had only served to fuel militancy.
“There is no doubt that a big section of the people are aggrieved. Some political groups, including Islamic parties are so cornered that they may have opted for desperate measures,” Rahman said.
Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina last Sunday said terror groups such as IS do not operate in the country, saying “our intelligence agencies are active… we will not allow any such activities in Bangladesh”.