A top Bangladeshi law enforcement official voiced skepticism this week about a new claim by al-Qaeda’s regional wing that it killed blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka on Feb. 26.
“We’ve serious doubts about the alleged al-Qaeda claim in Avijit’s murder. We don’t have any evidence that any network of al-Qaeda exists in Bangladesh,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Detective Branch) Joint Commissioner Monirul Islam told reporters Monday.
Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), an outlawed Islamist group, was more likely behind Roy’s murder, and five ABT members had been identified as suspects in the case, he said.
But the branch had yet to rule out a connection between al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and the murder of the Bangladeshi-American secular blogger. Detectives also are investigating whether ABT is linked with AQIS, Islam said.
Islam was responding to questions about a video posted online over the weekend, in which AQIS leader Asim Umar claimed that his group had carried out the killings of Roy and other secular bloggers in South Asia.
According to media reports, these included the February 2013 slaying of Ahmed Rajib Haider, and the March 2015 murder of Washiqur Rahman. Like Roy, the two other Bangladeshi bloggers were killed with machetes.
“Like the companions of the Prophet who defended him with their lives, the mujahideen of al-Qaeda have dispatched to hell many who blasphemed against God, and insulted the Prophet,” the newspaper quoted Umar as saying in the video.
Roy, an engineer and founder of the Mukto-Mona (Free Thinker) blog-sites, was fatally attacked as he and his wife were leaving a book fair at Dhaka University. A relatively unknown Islamist group, Ansar Bangla 7, claimed responsibility for Roy’s murder within hours of the attack.
Blanket statements about militant groups
However, Islam gave reporters no details or evidence to support the police’s suspicion of an ABT role in the murder.
Bangladeshi law enforcement officials often pin crimes that have made headlines on militants, but without offering evidence, observers say.
This was exemplified by last month’s bank robbery at Ashulia, near Dhaka, which left eight people dead.
Police asserted then that militants tried to pull off the April 21 heist, but authorities have yet to present any proof.
“The Ashulia bank robbery case is still under investigation and so far there’s no concrete evidence that suggests the extremists were responsible for the attack,” commented A.N.M. Muniruzzaman, a retired major general who is president of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) in Dhaka.
Akmal Hossain, a professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, agreed.
In his view, linking extremists to every major crime without providing any solid proof is questionable.
However, both he and Muniruzzaman warn that the rise of religious extremism in Bangladesh poses a real threat to national security and development.
“Militancy is a hot topic in international arena as many countries, directly or indirectly, are suffering and there’s no denying that Bangladesh is also affected,” Hossain told Bernar News.