Public outrage and grief are pouring out in Bangladesh after the grisly killing in Dhaka on Thursday (Feb. 26) of Bangladeshi-American writer and blogger Avijit Roy, who had received death threats for speaking out against Islamists.
A previously unknown extremist group, Ansar Bangla 7, claimed responsibility for the attack, Assistant Police Commissioner S.M. Shibly Noman told the Prothom Alo newspaper.
On Monday (Mar. 2), Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested Shafiur Rahman Farabi in connection with the murder. Farabi was earlier arrested for inciting attacks on bloggers on social media after blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider’s murder in 2013. He had then secured bail from the High Court.
RAB’s Additional Director General Col Ziaul Ahsan told bdnews24.com that he was nabbed on Monday morning from Dhaka’s Jatrabarhi area while attempting to leave the city.
On Sunday more than a 1,000 mourners gathered at Dhaka University – a bastion of secularism and free speech in the Muslim-majority nation – to pay respects and lay wreaths on Roy's coffin, which has been placed there, AFP reported.
"It's a heinous murder. My question is why did it take place?" AFP quoted Kamal Hossain, architect of the country’s secular constitution, as saying, as Roy's father stood by.
"Avijit was killed because of his writing. By killing him, the killers have torn apart our constitution," Hossain said.
Protesters also gathered at the spot where Roy was killed inside the university's sprawling campus, demanding the immediate arrest of his attackers, according to AFP.
The university gathering followed a rally and torchlight vigil in Dhaka on Friday.
"Avijit's killing once again proved that there is a culture of impunity in the country," Imran Sarker told AFP at Friday’s rally. "The government must arrest the killers in 24 hours or face non-stop protests."
‘Target is down’
According to police, Ansar Bangla 7 posted messages on Twitter boasting about the attack, in which assailants hacked Roy to death with machetes and also injured his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, as they were leaving a book fair where the author was promoting a new book.
These social media messages included “Allahu Akbar... a great success in Bangladesh today. Target is down...." and "The anti-Islam blogger American-Bengali Avijit Roy has been killed in the capital city Dhaka for crimes against Islam."
The same group posted another tweet that evoked recent attacks targeting editorial cartoonists in France and Denmark who had published cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, the blog-site Progress Bangladesh reported.
“@gringostani This is the operation same like #Parisattacks & #kopenhagen Attack … same cause, & same action,” it read.
The attack occurred at a crowded intersection amid heavy security around the book fair, Prothom Alo reported. Eyewitnesses told the paper that police officers stood nearby in silence as the killing took place and did not even chase Roy’s killers as they fled the scene.
“Perhaps the police couldn't have prevented my son’s killing, but they could have caught the killers instead of standing there like statues," the newspaper quoted Roy’s father, Ajay Kumar Roy, a retired professor of physics at Dhaka University, as saying.
Following his son’s slaying, Bangladeshi authorities intensified a crackdown on extremists. On Saturday, the RAB arrested three suspected militants in a pre-dawn raid in Chittagong, the Indian Express reported.
Police have yet to identify the group to which the suspects allegedly belonged, and it was unclear whether they were connected to Roy’s murder.
“We have seized 30 grenades…it appears they [militants] could have made some 300-400 bombs with the explosives we found at the den,” Lt. Col. Mista Uddin, the RAB’s commanding officer in Chittagong, told reporters, according to the Indian Express.
Roy, an engineer based in the United States, was the founder of the blog-site Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) and author of books, including “Biswaser Virus” (Virus of Faith). His blog provided an online platform for the expression of secular thought in his native Bangladesh, AFP reported.
His killing resembled other attacks against prominent atheists who had provoked the wrath of religious fundamentalists through their writings or blogs.
In February 2013, blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death in Dhaka. He was killed 10 days into the Ganajagaran Mancha, a secular protest movement that agitated at Shahbag Square in the Bangladeshi capital.
Two other secularist bloggers associated with the movement, which spoke out against faith-based political parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami, were also attacked.
In January 2014, eight suspected members of Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist group, were charged with Haider’s murder.
Roy’s killing was eerily similar to the killing of legendary writer Humayun Azad in February 2004. Militants went after Azad with machetes as he was returning home from the Ekushey Book Fair, the same literary event that Roy had attended on the night of his own murder.
Roy’s brutal death also drew revulsion from abroad.
"Dr. Roy was a true ally, a courageous and eloquent defender of reason, science, and free expression, in a country where those values have been under heavy attack," the U.S.-based Center for Inquiry said in a statement, Reuters reported.
The American government also condemned the killing of Roy, a naturalized citizen.
"This was not just an attack against a person, but a cowardly assault on the universal principles enshrined in Bangladesh's constitution, and the country's proud tradition of free intellectual and religious discourse," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a news briefing Friday, according to a transcript.
The United States was ready to help Bangladeshi authorities investigate Roy’s murder, she added.
Bangladesh’s government has now accepted Washington’s offer of providing FBI assistance in the investigation, the Daily Star reported Sunday, citing comments made to U.S. diplomats in Dhaka by Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood.