A suspect who is in custody in connection with the killings of a secular blogger and a publisher belonged to the intelligence wing of a militant group that monitored Internet activities of its targets, a Bangladeshi police official told BenarNews.
Khairul Islam, a suspected member of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), told interrogators that its intelligence wing identified bloggers and other intellectuals as potential targets for assassination, by monitoring their online posts and mounting pre-attack surveillance operations against such people, according to the spokesman for Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP).
Islam, who was arrested Friday on suspicion of involvement in the August 2015 killing of secular blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya (known by the pen name Niloy Neel) and the October 2015 killing of publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan – who had printed the works of secular writers – was a leader of the intelligence wing of ABT, which is also known as Ansar al Islam, the spokesman said.
Islam is the latest among 42 suspected ABT members to be arrested in connection with a slew of deadly machete attacks that have targeted secular writers and intellectuals in Bangladesh in recent years.
Chottopaddhya was one of seven secular writers who were killed in attacks by Islamic militants between February 2013 and April 2016, with most of the killings occurring last year. Dipan was the lone fatality in a pair of attacks launched on two publishing houses in Dhaka on Oct. 31, 2015, that left three other people injured.
Bangladeshi police blame ABT for carrying out attacks against people whom it has accused of “defaming” the religion of Islam.
According to DMP spokesman Masudur Rahman, the suspect Islam confessed to being involved in the killings of Chottopaddhya and Dipan.
“If they find any blogger’s write ups to be ‘defamatory’ to Islam, they preserve it. Then they collect the personal information of the bloggers from Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media. They even monitor the daily activities of the bloggers on social media,” Rahman told BenarNews.
Members of ABT’s intelligence wing would forward all “objectionable” materials to the wing’s chief for consideration. The chief, whom police did not identify, could then pass the material along to suspected ABT leader Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, a renegade ex-army major.
“If he [gave his nod], that particular blogger or publisher would come under further close surveillance of the intelligence wing,” Rahman said.
The intelligence members would also identify the homes, offices and places frequented by the targeted blogger or publisher.
“After repeated confirmation, accurate information is passed on to the Askari (military) wing of the ABT. The military wing assigns a group of members to kill him with machete attacks. After the killing mission is complete, the intelligence wing is tasked with claiming responsibility on Facebook, Twitter and other social media,” Rahman added.
A father’s quest for justice
Four ABT members entered Chottopaddhya’s apartment on Aug. 7, 2015, and hacked him to death in front of his wife and sister-in-law, according to Anwar Hossain Khan, the officer who prepared an inquest report into the case.
“One of the killers, in the guise of a tenant, came to the house of Niloy. … Within minutes, they started hacking, and killed him and fled the scene,” Khan told BenarNews.
More than a year after his son was killed in the attack on the publishing house, Dipan’s father is hoping that he will get justice. Apart from Islam, at least two other suspects have been arrested in the publisher’s murder.
“The police officers usually come to brief me about the progress of the case. I think if the police are sincere, the killers of Dipan can be punished,” his father, Professor Abul Kashem Fazlul Haque, told BenarNews.