After the murders of two foreigners and the attempted killing of a Christian pastor in Bangladesh, members of religious minority groups called on the government Tuesday to protect their communities from attacks by suspected Islamists.
“We will place our resolution to the government to ensure the safety of all minorities in Bangladesh. The attack on Luke Sarker is an attack on all minorities. We are worried about our safety,” Rana Das Gupta, president of the Bangladesh Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad, an association of various minority groups, told BenarNews.
He was referring to Monday’s knife attack in Pabna district on the pastor of Faith Bible Church. The association is planning to hold an emergency meeting in the next two days to discuss security in the wake of the attack on Sarker and the recent murders of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella and Japanese agricultural expert Kunio Hoshi.
According to news reports in early September, Das Gupta, who is also a prosecutor for Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, received death threats from Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a banned militant group that police suspect carried out the killings of four secular bloggers earlier this year.
‘Surely the act of radicals’
Hindus, Buddhists and Christians collectively account for 10 percent of the predominantly Muslim country’s 160 million people.
The daytime attack at Sarker’s home was the first targeting a member of Bangladesh’s Christian community since three Evangelical Christians were murdered in northern Mymensingh district in 2003, officials said.
“The government must investigate whether the IS [Islamic State] was involved in the attack [on Sarker]. In addition, our security must be ensured,” Nimal Rozario, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Christian Association, told BenarNews.
“The pre-planned attack was aimed at killing Luke Sarker. This is surely the act of the radicals. They also killed the Italian and the Japanese nationals,” Rozario added.
IS has claimed responsibility for the Sept. 28 and Oct. 3 killings of Tavella and Hoshi in Dhaka and northern Rangur district, respectively, in which the victims were gunned down by men on motorbikes, according to police.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal has repeatedly insisted that IS was not involved in those killings, but he has yet to provide facts to explain how officials ruled out an IS connection.
‘They were trying to kill him’
Sarker, 50, was out of danger and recovering Tuesday at a hospital in Ishwardy, Padna, after having the skin of his throat cut during the attack, physician Shafiqul Islam told reporters.
Local police have arrested Obaidul Islam, 22, in connection with the attack. Islam is an activist with Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party.
Three unknown men entered Sarker’s home after arriving there on a motorbike at around 8:30 a.m. Monday, according to police and witnesses.
They allegedly identified themselves as being interested in hearing a sermon. As the pastor read from the Bible, one of the men, all said to be in their 30s, came after him with a knife, witnesses said.
“Entering the room, I saw they were trying to kill him. I and other family members started screaming for help. Then the attackers left him and rushed out of the room when people around started shouting,” Sarker’s wife, Padma, told BenarNews.
Sarker fended off the attack by biting on the fingers of the man trying to slash his throat.
One of the strangers had previously attended one of Luke Sarker’s sermons in recent days, Padma Sarker said.
Foreign diplomats demand security improvements
In Dhaka, meanwhile, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Home Ministry met with foreign diplomats on Tuesday to brief them about the security situation in Bangladesh following the killings of the two foreigners.
Those killings occurred amid security advisories issued by the British and American embassies, and the postponements of tours of Bangladesh by the Australian men’s cricket team and the South African women’s squad.
"We have assured the diplomats of carrying out a fair and transparent investigation into the murder of the two foreigners. All foreigners will get full-proof security here," Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali told reporters after the televised meeting, referring to Bangladesh’s quarter-million strong expat community.
British High Commissioner Robert Gibson, the dean of the Bangladesh’s diplomatic corps, spoke briefly to reporters after the meeting.
“After undertaking more security measures for foreigners than earlier, we feel more secure but a few more steps are needed,” Gibson said without elaborating.
European Union Ambassador Pierre Mayaudon called for Bangladeshi officials to beef up security for foreigners.
“Many businessmen from the EU postponed their [planned] visits to Bangladesh due to security concerns. That’s why security arrangements should be increased for the betterment of business in Bangladesh,” he said.
Suspected militant killed
The slayings of the two foreigners came amid a growing Islamist threat in Bangladesh, reflected in this year’s killings of four secular bloggers by suspected Islamist militants.
On Tuesday, Mohammad Javad, the alleged Chittagong area military commander of another banned outfit, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), was killed when a grenade exploded in a house, when he was accompanying police on a raid after his arrest on Monday.
"Javed detonated a grenade in the room. He was severely injured and later died. Three policemen taking him to the house were also injured," A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman, additional commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police, told reporters.
Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.