A priest was slain Sunday in an attack on a Hindu temple in Bangladesh, marking the first killing of a member of the country’s small Hindu community since militants issued threats against religious minorities last year.
According to police, a motive for the grisly attack by unknown assailants was still unclear, but authorities were counting militants among possible suspects.
Late Sunday (local time), the Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the priest’s murder, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based website that monitors messages posted by IS and other militant groups online.
According to newswire reports, two other men were injured in the attack at the Sontogouri Moth, a Hindu temple and religious school in the far northern district of Panchagarh. But a police official in the remote area told BenarNews that only one other person was wounded.
Police identified the man who was killed as Moharaja Jogeshwar Roy, the priest and principal of the moth (a Bengali term for a temple-cum-religious school). Police said he died after his throat was slit but that an autopsy would help them determine exactly what type of knife killed him.
“The nature of killing shows that local Islamic militants could be behind the murder,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews, alluding to the manner in which the priest was murdered.
He was interviewed before SITE Intelligence reported IS’s claim for the killing.
Kamal also suggested that the murder may have been connected to a militant plot to attack religious minorities, which was foiled when police launched two raids in the Dhaka area on Friday and Saturday.
“They (the killers) may have killed him in anger after the police foiled their bigger sabotage plan, by recovering a huge cache of bombs and explosives from a house in Mohammadpur,” the minister said, referring to the name of a neighborhood in Dhaka.
Early Saturday, authorities seized a stockpile of bombs and other explosives from the house, which was a den of the banned Bangladeshi militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), Bangladeshi media reported.
‘We want justice and protection’
Attacks on minority Hindus, who represent 10 percent of predominantly Muslim Bangladesh’s 168.9 million people, are very rare and relations between the two religious groupings have been relatively peaceful for many years.
Sunday’s killing at the moth in Panchagarh angered area Hindus and Muslims alike.
“We demand the killers be tried as soon as possible,” local businessman Abdus Salam told BenarNews.
“We, the Hindu-Muslims, have been living here peacefully for centuries. People of Deviganj will resist the move to further attack the minorities,” he added, referring to the sub-district where the murder occurred.
The Panchagarh chapter of the Hindu-Buddhists-Christian association reacted to news of the attack by mounting a road block on a local highway.
“We want justice and protection of all minorities,” Nirmal Ghosh, a local leader of the Hindu-Buddhists-Christian association, told BenarNews.
The killing followed two attacks by suspected militants on Hindu temples in the northern district of Dinajpur that left at least 10 people wounded in early December.
It also occurred in the wake of militant attacks targeting members of other religious minorities, including the country’s tiny Christian and Shiite communities.
IS also has claimed responsibility for such attacks, including last month’s stabbing death of an 85-year-old Christian homeopathic doctor in southwestern Bangladesh.
However, the home minister and other senior Bangladeshi officials have consistently denied that IS has a presence in the country. Instead, they have blamed such acts on local militant groups, among others.
Sunday’s attack occurred around 7 a.m. (local time), police said.
Three men entered the compound of the moth and threw stones onto the temple’s tin roof, to cause a rattling noise and coax the priest to come outside, Babul Akhter, the officer-in-charge of the police station in Deviganj, told BenarNews.
“The killers took him to the adjacent house and slaughtered him with a sharp weapon as he came out of his room to see who threw the stones,” Akhter said.
Another Hindu devotee, Gopal Chandra, was shot and wounded as he came to the priest’s rescue, according to eyewitness Nirmal Chandra.
“As I went out of my house, I saw a bearded man aged 30-35 years who was standing with a pistol, while two others were hacking principal Moharaja Jogeshwar at the veranda behind him,” Nirmal told reporters afterwards.