The Islamic State (IS) group has claimed responsibility for the murder this week of a Bangladesh policeman, as fears of Islamist violence grow in the moderate Muslim-majority country.
A group of unknown men stabbed a police officer to death on Wednesday (4) just outside the capital Dhaka, while another was badly injured, the second such attack in less than a month.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan blamed local hardline Islamists, whom the government also suspects are behind a series of murders this year of secular bloggers and a publisher of secular books.
But the IS said its “soldiers of the state in Bangladesh” carried out Wednesday’s killing, according to the US-based jihadist monitor group SITE.
In recent weeks, IS has also claimed responsibility for murders of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese farmer, along with a blast at the country’s main Shiite shrine which left two people dead.
If the latest claims are true, it would be the first time IS has targeted an arm of theBangladesh government.
Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed responsibility for the blogger and publisher attacks and several previous killings, calling the victims “atheists and blasphemers”.
The government has rejected the jihadist group’s previous claims, saying it does not have any presence in the country. It has instead blamed local Islamists, along with the main opposition party and its Islamist ally, for orchestrating the violence to destabilise the country.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government launched a crackdown on local Islamist groups after facing Western criticism this year of failing to stop the bloodshed.
Meanwhile, the secular Bangladeshi publisher who survived a horrific weekend attack at the hands of suspected Islamist extremists has vowed to continue his work, and says the country needs to do more to promote free speech.
Ahmedur Rashid Tutul was speaking to two writers in the office of his publishing firm in Dhaka last Saturday (31), when a group of young men wielding machetes and meat cleavers stormed the building.
“Before we could realise what was happening they started hacking us indiscriminately,” the 43-year-old said from his heavily guarded hospital bed.
His attackers, one of whom had visited the firm earlier posing as a book buyer, left the three victims lying in a pool of blood as they left, padlocking the door from the outside. The victims eventually managed to call the police.
Tutul said the brutal violence had only left him “more determined” to publish controversial books in the face of rising extremism.
“Once I recover, I will continue my work,” he said, as more than a dozen armed policemen stood guard outside his room in the capital.
Tutul’s two compatriots – secular blogger and writer Ranadipam Basu and poet Tareq Rahim – are being kept by in nearby hospital cabins, also guarded by armed policemen.
The conditions of all three are improving, a doctor at the hospital said, asking not to be named.
Tutul, whose firm Shuddhaswar specialises in publishing young, liberal authors, is well aware of the intensifying dangers of his profession.
On the same day as the savage attack, his friend Faisal Arefin Dipan, also a secular publisher, was murdered at his office in the Bangladeshi capital.
It follows a wave of violence against secular and atheist writers at the hands of Islamist militants this year that have left at least four bloggers dead.
The latest attacks have outraged Bangladesh’s secular activists, with Dipan’s murder sparking nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday from a “free thinkers” organisation representing teachers and writers.
Publishers also staged a strike to protest against the government’s failure to halt the attacks, burning books and shuttering thousands of bookshops across the country.
Both Dipan and Tutul had put out books by Avijit Roy, an American atheist writer of Bangladeshi origin who was hacked to death near a book fair in February.
Tutul, who had published a book on homosexuality by Roy, the most prominent of the murdered bloggers, says he took “precautions” after the killing.
“I don’t consider my work as my business only, but it is also how I contribute to foster free thinking here,” he said.
Tutul said he blames Bangladesh’s “failed” education system for the rise of Islamist militants.
“We’ve failed. We’ve failed to teach our younger generation the need and power of free thoughts. But (militants) have successfully preached their agenda.”