Bangladeshi police say they are probing an online death threat from an alleged local supporter of the Islamic State (IS) terror group against the spokesman of a grassroots secular movement.
Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform) spokesman Imran H. Sarker notified police this weekend that a man claiming to be a member of IS’s Bangladesh chapter had threatened to kill him in a manner similar to the recent murders of two foreigners in Bangladesh. The death threat was posted on Sarker’s Facebook page, he said.
Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella and Japanese farmer Kunio Hoshi were shot and killed by men on motorbikes in separate attacks on Sept. 28 and Oct. 3. IS claimed it carried out both killings, according to SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S.-based website that tracks jihadist threats online. Bangladeshi officials have denied that IS had a hand in the murders.
Meanwhile, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), an Islamist group suspected of being behind the murders of five secular bloggers in Bangladesh since February 2013, on Monday issued a threat to local media outlets via email. The group warned that more bloggers on a hit-list would be killed if reporters kept writing on the issue, and it called for women to be prohibited from working as journalists.
“No one will be spared if you support atheists. If your freedom of expression breaks the limit we have set, every news media unit should be prepared to face [the consequences] of our freedom to vent our anger,” the emailed threat said.
The suspect who allegedly menaced Sarker has yet to be arrested.
According to Sarker’s complaint, the message’s author is a student at Ananda Mohan College in Mymensingh, a city some 120 km north of Dhaka. The threat against Sarker – who previously complained to police about other death threats against him – set the end of October as a deadline for killing him.
“Yes, he filed a GD (general diary) with us,” said Abu Bank Siddique, the officer-in-charge at the Shahbag police station, referring to Sarker.
“We are investigating the matter. He will be given security,” he told BenarNews.
The police station lies in a section of Dhaka where Gonojagoron Moncho mobilized massive, pro-secular rallies at Shahbag Square in early 2013, which called for the executions of war criminals from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, a purge of Islamic militants and a moratorium on religion-based parties.
At least two of the five bloggers slain with machetes were associated with the grassroots movement: Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was killed on Feb. 15, 2013, and Niladri Chottopaddhya, who was killed on Aug. 7, 2015.
“I am not afraid of such threats. And the people doing these are the enemies of the state,” Sarker wrote on Facebook in Bangla, urging people to join the fight against the militants.
The blogger killings and a hit-list targeting others, however, have scared off many people from the country’s secular blogging community, said Baqi Billah, a fellow member of Gonojagoron Moncho.
“Two years ago, thousands of young men and women had been active in the blogs and other social media, discussing many issues including radicalism and militancy. But now, most of the bloggers have been leaving the country. We are under constant threats,” Billah told BenarNews.
‘Real and credible threat’
In other news related to the safety of foreigners living and working in the country, the U.S. embassy Saturday updated an earlier travel advisory.
“Future attacks against Westerners may occur, including against U.S. citizens,” the embassy warned.
“Security agencies in Bangladesh have taken extraordinary measures to increase security for foreigners in Bangladesh, but the terrorist threat remains real and credible.”
Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.