Bangladeshi investigators have found evidence linking a militant group to the killing of a secular publisher two weeks ago, police said, as authorities also announced the arrests of two suspects.
Publisher Shahzahan Bachchu, 57, was at a pharmacy in his village in Munshiganj when four suspects on two motorcycles gunned him down on June 11, police said.
Investigators linked the militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to Bachchu’s killing after two suspects were arrested on Sunday following a raid of a militant hideout in Gazipur district, near the capital Dhaka, police told BenarNews.
Police identified the suspects as Abdur Rahman, 30, and his 28-year-old wife, Shamsunnahar.
“They are JMB operatives. They have possible links with Bachchu’s murder,” Shahidul Islam, an assistant police superintendent in Gazipur, told BenarNews.
Islam’s findings differed from statements made by Monirul Islam, chief of the country’s counter-terrorism and transnational crimes unit, who told reporters on June 15 that the al-Qaeda aligned militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) could have been behind Bachchu’s killing.
JMB, on the other hand, has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
JMB claimed responsibility for synchronized nationwide bomb attacks in August 2005, in which the group set off almost 600 bombs within 30 minutes across the country. The bombs, mostly detonators or without explosive charges, killed two people, forcing the government to admit the presence of militants in Bangladesh.
Police said the four suspects set off Molotov cocktails before shooting Bachchu, a former secretary general of the Munshiganj district unit of the Communist Party of Bangladesh. The gunmen shot Bachchu after dragging him out of the pharmacy, a witness told BenarNews.
Suspected militants have targeted secularist bloggers, publishers and writers in recent years, killing at least 10 of them between February 2013 and April 2016 in machete attacks, police said. Dozens of suspects have been arrested and imprisoned in connection with the killings.
Bachchu, who lived in Japan for five years before returning to Bangladesh in 1993, founded the publishing house Bishaka, which mainly published poetry books. He was a self-proclaimed atheist and well-known on social media for his secular views.
In an interview with the Daily Observer in August 2015, Bachchu said he had gone underground and frequently had to change his hideouts after receiving numerous telephoned death threats from suspected militants.
Bachchu’s slaying was the first involving a firearm since Bangladesh witnessed a surge of machete attacks on secular writers, bloggers, publishers, foreigners and minorities since late September 2015.
In March 2007, the government shattered JMB’s organizational network by executing its founder, Shaikh Abdur Rahman, and the chief of the group’s military wing, Siddiqul Islam, after convicting them in the killings of two assistant judges.
Police investigator Helal Uddin told BenarNews that they had established JMB’s link with Bachchu’s murder while pursuing leads on recent robberies in northwestern Bogra and Rajshahi districts.
He declined to elaborate.