IS ‘Not Involved’ in Foreigner Killings: Bangladesh Minister

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
151001-BD-killing-1000 Bangladeshi police stand near the site where a Japanese citizen was shot and killed in Rangpur, Oct. 3, 2015.

Bangladesh’s home minister insisted Monday that the Islamic State (IS) had no presence in the country, despite the group’s claims that it murdered two foreigners there this week, and recent arrests of suspected IS militants by local authorities.

"There is no existence of IS in Bangladesh and IS is not involved in these killings," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told a news conference, two days after a pair of gunmen riding pillion on a motorbike shot dead a Japanese man in broad daylight in the country’s north.

Islamic State announced over its official Twitter feed that it was behind Saturday’s murder of Japanese citizen Kunio Hoshi, 66, in Rangpur, more than 300 km from Dhaka, according to news reports.

IS also claimed responsibility for the Sept. 28 murder of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella, 50, in Dhaka, according to the U.S-based SITE Intelligence Group. He too was shot and killed by men on a motorbike, officials said.

"The two killings have some links as both of them were killed in similar fashion. The motive of the killings is to destabilize the country," the home minister said.

Asked about arrests of alleged IS members in recent months, Kamal appeared to contradict himself, saying "They are suspects, some of them try to recruit [for the group], some of them are trying to inspire others to get involved with IS, but the investigation will prove their identity."

On Monday, the South African women’s cricket team postponed a scheduled tour of Bangladesh, citing security fears amid rising concerns over extremism in the country where four secular bloggers have been murdered so far this year.

Growing foreign anxieties

The South African postponement came on the heels of a similar decision by the Australian men’s team and advisories issued by the U.S. and British embassies warning their citizens about militant threats against Westerners and Western interests in Bangladesh.

In the aftermath of Hoshi’s murder, the U.N. mission in Dhaka on Monday issued a statement warning staffers to avoid travel to the Rangpur area. Meanwhile, a team of four police officers from Japan arrived in Bangladesh to inspect the crime scene in Rangpur.

The home minister assured the international community that Bangladesh was beefing up security for foreigners.

"We have already passed on instructions to all police stations to protect all foreigners living in Bangladesh; they will get maximum security here," Khan told reporters Monday.

That assurance came a day after Japanese Ambassador Masato Watanabe visited with the home minister and demanded tighter security for Japan’s 908 citizens in Bangladesh.

Hoshi, an agricultural researcher and convert to Islam, had been living in Munshipara, Rangpur since August, where he planned to cultivate a species of grass used for poultry feed, Lucky Zakaria, a local resident told BenarNews.

According to witnesses and police, Hoshi was ambushed by three masked men on a motorbike as he rode in a rickshaw toward a plot of farmland about 2 km from his home, at about 10 a.m. Saturday.

"This is a very regrettable incident. We have been investigating it. We have formed several committees for a thorough and transparent investigation into the murder.

The killers must face justice," Humayun Kabir, the deputy inspector general of police in Rangpur who is heading the investigation, told reporters Monday.

He declined comment on IS’s alleged involvement in Hoshi's murder.

‘Very ominous signs’

Bangladeshi security experts cast doubt on IS involvement in the killings, but said local Islamist groups, such as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), may have had a hand in them.

In recent months, Bangladeshi police have been cracking down on and arresting suspected members of both groups. Police suspect that ABT, in particular, was behind this year’s killings of the four bloggers in separate machete attacks.

Security analyst Sakhawat Hossain, a retired army brigadier, expressed skepticism about an IS connection, but the group is notorious for co-opting high-profile killings to “add value” to its name, Hossain told BenarNews.

"Maybe the IS has outsourced [work to] some unknown militant groups that have networks both in posh areas of the capital and in the remotest areas, to start their operation in Bangladesh. If that is the case, we are going to face a huge trouble in future," Hossain said.

According to an Agence France-Presse report Monday, experts say that hardliners who have been excluded from mainstream politics “are opting for increasingly desperate measures.”

“These killings are very ominous signs. There is a pattern that these are done by militants, which makes everyone concerned,” Ali Riaz, an expert at Illinois State University on Bangladeshi militancy, told AFP.

In a column published Sunday in Prothom Alo, one of Bangladesh’s leading news outlets, Riaza revealed information he had pieced together on arrests of suspected terrorists, through an analysis and comparison of local newspaper reports. Between July 2014 and June 2015, out of 100 arrests of suspected terrorists, 22 were suspected IS members, and another 14 and 25, respectively, were alleged ABT and JMB members.  

“The future of Bangladesh is at stake because if these killings are continued it’ll have a ripple effect on the country’s political stability and its economy,” Riaz added in his interview with AFP.

Shahriar Sharif contributed to this report.


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