Manhunt underway after two extremists on death row escape from police custody

Ahammad Foyez
Manhunt underway after two extremists on death row escape from police custody Bangladeshi militants linked with a pro-al-Qaeda extremist group are seen smiling in a prison van in Dhaka after a court sentenced them to death for the 2015 murder of publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, Feb. 10, 2021.
Sharif Khiam/BenarNews

Authorities in Bangladesh were hunting for two Muslim extremists condemned to death row for the 2015 killings of a secular writer and publisher, after men on motorcycles helped them to escape as police took them to court on Sunday.

A group of four men on motorbikes subdued police guards with what appeared to be pepper spray as the officers were escorting the two Ansar al-Islam men, Abu Siddique Sohel and Mainul Islam, outside the Chief Judicial Magistrate Court in Dhaka, officials said. The men on the bikes then whisked the two convicts away in the incident that occurred around noon.

Both of the prisoners, who were scheduled to appear at a trial on Sunday before the Anti-Terrorism Tribunal, had been among defendants sentenced to death in 2021 for the machete-killings of secular writer Avijit Roy and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan seven years ago.

The group on the motorcycles sprayed “something” into the eyes of the police officers who were escorting the prisoners, Faruk Hossain, a spokesman for Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews.

Police have announced a reward of up to U.S. $10,000 each for information leading to the fugitives’ capture.

At a press conference at his office, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said that authorities had issued a nationwide alert for the fugitives.

“We have issued a red alert. We are trying to arrest them and the border areas were alerted,” he said, adding that on-duty police officers would be disciplined if they were found to be negligent in allowing the two militants to escape.

The two fugitives belonged to Ansar al-Islam (otherwise known as Ansarullah Bangla Team), a Muslim militant group aligned with al-Qaeda that was blamed for a string of horrific murders targeting secular writers and intellectuals in Muslim-majority Bangladesh in 2015 and 2016.

Avijit Roy, a U.S.-Bangladeshi writer, was attacked and hacked to death in February 2015 as he and his wife were leaving a book festival in Dhaka. Dipan, whose publishing house printed the works of Roy and other secular thinkers, was killed in October that year when militants burst into his office and murdered him in a similar way.


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