Updated at 5:35 p.m. ET on 2015-08-28
Law enforcement personnel have arrested three men including the accused mastermind in the recent brutal murders of two bloggers, authorities say.
Commander Mufti Mahmud Khan, spokesman of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), told reporters Tuesday the suspects were picked up from the capital’s Dhanmondi and Nilkhet suburbs Monday night.
“The arrested persons are the main planners behind the murders of bloggers Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das and they belong to the banned outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT),” Khan said.
The arrests took place just days after police picked up two other men in connection with the Aug. 7 murder of blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya, who was hacked to death at his home in the suburbs of Dhaka.
Chottopaddhya was the fifth blogger killed in the same manner since 2013, apparently for criticizing religious fundamentalism and expressing secular or atheist views.
Police have come under increasing pressure to solve the murders, which have been claimed by ABT and al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
Financier and mastermind
The new suspects – identified as Touhidur Rahman (58), Sadek Ali alias Mithu (28), and Aminul Mollick (35) – were paraded before reporters.
Khan claimed Rahman was the main financier of ABT and the other two suspects were active members.
He also claimed that Ramzan, Nayeem, Julhas, Jafran and Sadek took part in the hacking to death of Avijit, although he could not immediately provide full names of all the accused.
The RAB spokesman said the suspects gathered near Mohisn Hall, a dorm of Dhaka University, three hours before Avijit was hacked to death on February 26.
They later followed Avijit from the book fair where the Bangladeshi-American blogger had gone with his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonnya.
“They began hacking him as the couple came out of the fair,” Khan said. Bonnya lost a finger in the attack.
“This five-member group also murdered blogger Ananta Bijoy Das in northeastern Sylhet on May 12,” he claimed.
According to RAB spokesman, Rahman is a British citizen, who once worked for Bangladesh Biman, the national airlines.
He went to the UK in 1991, and got to know Mufti Jashimuddin Rahmani, the ABT chief, in 2008 in Dhaka.
RAB came to learn from Sadek during interrogation that Rahman financed many activities of ABT and he was the mastermind behind the killings.
Authorities from the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (Detective Branch), the investigating authority of the cases, did not learn of the suspects’ involvement in the two murders until Tuesday night.
RAB handed the three suspects to the DB police after they were presented before reporters in the afternoon.
“The three have not been shown arrested in any case regarding the murders. We’re discussing the matter,” Muntasirul Islam, deputy commissioner of DB police, told BenarNews.
Unlike police, RAB occasionally allow reporters to interview the accused and on Tuesday, one of the suspects denied his involvement in the murders.
“I don’t know anything about the murders. I was at my sister’s house in Dhaka when the two murders took place,” Sadek told BenarNews after the press conference.
Independent observers questioned the veracity of the RAB claims.
“We sincerely want all the perpetrators to be caught and brought to justice,” Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Sujon, a rights group campaigning for rule of law and social justice, told BenarNews.
“But we are noticing that the law enforcement agencies are somewhat quick to claim the arrest of suspects and then we see almost no evidence to support their claim,” he added.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Niladri Chottopaddhya as Niladri Chakrabarty.