A knife-wielding youth stabbed a prominent writer and secular activist on a university campus in Bangladesh on Saturday before students caught and beat the attacker, witnesses said.
The victim, Zafar Iqbal, 65, was being treated at a military hospital in Dhaka after being airlifted from Sylhet, a city some 240 km northeast of Dhaka where the attack occurred, doctors said.
“He was watching the robotic fair there. Suddenly, a lean youth with a thin beard attacked him with a knife from behind. He was stabbed on the head and shoulder,” AKM Mahbubuzzaman, a colleague of Iqbal of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, told BenarNews.
Iqbal, a professor of computer science and technology at Shahjalal, had received at least two death threats from radical Islamic groups for his sharp writing against fundamentalism and militancy, and two police officers had been deployed to guard his house, Mahbubuzzaman said.
Paritosh Ghosh, acting commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police, said he had yet to determine the motive of the attacker, identified as Fayzur Rahman, 24, the son of a madrasa teacher.
“Due to mob beating, his condition is not good. He is being treated at the Osmani Medical College. A CT scan has been done. We will interrogate him once he comes round,” he said.
A police official on condition of anonymity told BenarNews that the counter-terrorism unit of the police would take the perpetrator into custody.
Iqbal’s attack was the first of its kind since a grisly series of murders of secular thinkers and intellectuals two years ago. Between February 2015 and April 2016, suspected Islamic militants hacked nine individuals to death.
Security forces launched a massive crackdown on militant suspects following a terror attack on the Holey Artisan Café in Dhaka in July 2016 that left 29 people dead, most of them foreigners who had been dining at the upscale eatery.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group and carried out by its local affiliate, known as Neo-JMB.
Four policemen had been guarding Iqbal when the attack took place at around 5:40 pm in a campus building, according to Mahbubuzzaman, a professor of social work.
“We saw only one attacker. Our students caught him immediately and beat him mercilessly. He is nearly dead,” he said.
Iqbal was bleeding profusely as he was whisked off to Osmani Medical College Hospital in Sylhet, Mahbubuzzaman said.
“He had four injuries on his head, stabbings on the shoulder and hand. His brain is unhurt. So, we think he is out of danger,” Morshed Alam Chowdhury, dean of the medical science faculty of the university and a physician at Osmani Medical College Hospital, told BenarNews.
“But his condition may deteriorate,” he said.
Chowdhury said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had telephoned him and instructed that Iqbal be flown to Dhaka for better treatment. This took place at around 10:00 p.m., Iqbal’s younger brother, Ahsan Habib, confirmed to BenarNews.
Iqbal was several times listed on militant hit lists circulated on Facebook, according to Rakib Hasan, a filmmaker and teacher of Jagannath University in Dhaka.
He had been vocal against militancy and corruption, and bitterly criticized the activities of the student front of the ruling Awami League party.
Students at Shahjalal University in Sylhet and members of the secular Gonojagaran Moncha movement in Dhaka protested the attack late Saturday.
The Bangladesh University Teachers Council also condemned the attack.
“The vice chancellors of the 44 public universities are very worried by this dastardly terrorist attack... aimed at killing Dr Zafar Iqbal,” Harun-or-Rashid, vice chancellor of National University, said in a statement issued on behalf of the group.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.