Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET on 2015-08-28
The South Asian branch of al-Qaeda is claiming it carried out Friday’s machete-killing of secular blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya during a home invasion at a suburban Dhaka apartment building.
Chottopaddhya, 40, who went by the pen name Niloy Neel, was the fourth blogger to be hacked to death with machetes by alleged Islamic zealots this year alone and the fifth to die that way since February 2013.
But he was the first of these five murder victims to be killed inside his home. The other murders occurred in public.
Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladeshi wing of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), claimed responsibility for the murder. It had previously claimed two of the other killings.
“These kinds of murders had taken place before and there was no justice. If they were brought to justice, I would not have lost my husband today,” Chottopaddhya’s wife, Ashamoni, told reporters.
She was in the fifth-floor apartment when the attack took place.
The doorbell rang at around the hour of the Friday prayers, in the early afternoon, she said. Ashamoni opened the door to find a man in his early twenties telling her that he wanted to rent the apartment. When she stepped away to tell her husband about the stranger at the door, three other young men entered the apartment and shut the door, Ashamoni recalled.
“Three of them were carrying machetes and one had a pistol in hand,” she said.
“One of them held the pistol to my head. They also brought my younger sister, Tonni, who was in another room, and shut the door from inside.”
Ashamoni fainted more than once as she spoke to reporters about how her husband of two years was killed.
“Then chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘God is great’), the other three began attacking him from all sides and then ran away. I yelled ‘save, save’ from the balcony of our flat. But no one came forward,” she said.
‘Same pattern, preplanned’
According to police, Friday’s murder bore a striking similarity to the murders within the last three years of secular bloggers Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Avijit Roy and Ahmed Rajib Haider.
“It’s the same manner they followed. The assailants attack them with machetes in the upper part of the body, including face and shoulder,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police Joint Commissioner Krishnapada Roy told media after visiting the crime scene in in Goran, a lower middle-class suburb of Dhaka.
“Like in previous cases, this one is also pre-planned. They took advantage of the Jumma (Friday) prayer time, when all the male members in the five-story building were attending the congregation, and they knew it beforehand,” he added.
AQIS boasts about killing
Hours after the murder, Ansar al-Islam sent out an email to news outlets in which it claimed responsibility for the act.
“We declare war against these worst enemies of Allah and His messenger,” Mufti Abdullah Ashraf, who claimed to be the group’s spokesman, said in the email.
“If your ‘Freedom of Speech’ maintains no limits, then widen your chests for ‘Freedom of our Machetes’,” the email concluded.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Muntasirul Islam told BenarNews that the department was investigating the Ansar al-Islam claim.
‘Leave the country’
Chottopaddhya apparently had provoked the wrath of radical Islamists for his writings against communalism and religious bigotry.
He was an active member of the Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform), created two years ago to demand the death penalty for criminals from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence. He was also affiliated with Bangladesh Science and Logic Council.
According to Chottopaddhya’s family and friends, he used to get frequent threats on his Facebook account, which prompted him to remove all his photos from his page. In the address field, he also replaced “Bangladesh” with “Kolkata.”
In May, Chottopaddhya suspected that he was being followed, and he sought police protection.
“Two people followed me day before yesterday,” he said in a Facebook posting May 15.
Police advised him to go abroad.
“They were following me on my way home after I attended a rally organized to protest the killing of Ananta Bijoy Das,” he said on Facebook, referring to Das’s May 12 murder.
“Then I went to a police station in order to seek protection from them. The duty officer said he cannot be any help as his house was under the jurisdiction of another station. ‘You go there and try to leave the country as soon as possible.’”
Protests and condemnation swiftly followed his murder.
Imran H. Sarker, convener of Gonojagoron Moncho, of which Chottopaddhya was an active member, blamed law enforcement agencies for allowing the killings of bloggers to recur.
“Their utter failure to bring the culprits to justice is the main cause for these murders,” he told BenarNews.
Condemnation for Chottopaddhya’s killing also poured in from overseas.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called his murder a “barbaric act.”
“How many more murders will be needed before the authorities decide to act?” Benjamin Ismaïl, Asia Pacific director for the press freedom watchdog, said in a statement.
The United States added its voice of condemnation.
“This heinous act once again underscores the need to work together to counter violent extremism,” The U.S. State Department said in a statement. “We stand with Bangladeshis who reject this vicious act and who work to protect space for freedom of expression.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Niladri Chottopaddhya as Niladri Chakrabarty.