The wife of a senior policeman who had led counterterrorist raids against an outlawed Islamic militant group, and a member of Bangladesh’s Christian minority, were killed Sunday in separate attacks across the country, officials said.
Authorities suspect that operatives from the banned group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB) shot and stabbed to death Mahmuda Aktar in southeastern Chittagong, marking the first time that Bangladeshi militants have targeted and killed a woman in recent years, police said.
“This targeted killing is aimed at demoralizing the police officers committed to crush the militants. Killing the wife of a police officer is a new [development] in targeted killings in Bangladesh,” Syed Mahfujul Haque Marjan, a professor of criminology at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.
’Amaq, a news agency of the Middle East-based extremist group Islamic State (IS), claimed that IS fighters carried out Sunday’s machete-killing of Christian shopkeeper Sunil Gomes in Bonpara, a village in northwestern Natore district, according to the website of the SITE Intelligence Group. However, local police told BenarNews that it was still too early to say whether Islamic militants were behind this killing.
The two killings brought to 11 the number of people slain since early April across Bangladesh by suspected militants, or who have been killed in attacks where police have not ruled out a religious motive. Sunday’s killings also occurred close to the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start in Bangladesh on Tuesday.
Since February 2013, according to figures from the Home Ministry, at least 34 people including secular writers, intellectuals, members of different religious minority groups and gay rights activists have been murdered in different parts of the country, mostly in machete attacks by suspected militants. Last month, four people were killed in four different attacks. Before Sunday’s attacks, the latest was the May 25 murder of Hindu shopkeeper Debesh Chandra Pramanik in the northern district of Gaibandha.
Mahmuda Aktar, the victim of Sunday’s first attack, was married to Police Superintendent Babul Aktar. Her husband was transferred to police headquarters in Dhaka in April and previously served as additional commissioner of the detective branch in Chittagong, a port city where his wife and two children were still living, according to neighbors and friends.
In October and December 2015, Aktar led police raids that took down at least two JMB dens in Chittagong, police said.
Mother killed before son’s eyes
Mahmuda was killed by three people on a motorbike as she accompanied her young son to school at around 6:45 a.m., Paritosh Ghosh, a deputy commissioner with Chittagong Metropolitan Police, told reporters, according to local media.
Her killers separated the boy from his mother and then stabbed and shot her to death, before speeding off on the motorcycle, said Ghosh, adding that police had obtained closed-circuit television footage that could help them track down the suspects.
“Can you imagine how traumatic it is for a six-year-old son to witness his mother being killed?” Marjan said.
In Chittagong, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters that the JMB went after Babul Akter’s wife because he had played “a key role in tracking the militants.”
“They killed his wife [because] they could not get him,” Khan said, according to local news reports.
The home minister spoke to BenarNews later on Sunday.
“The killers will not be spared. We will crush them,” he told Benar, referring to the killings of Mahmuda Aktar and Sunil Gomes, adding that the government would ensure the safety of the families of police personnel.
The attack on the shopkeeper Gomes took place around 11:45 a.m. inside his shop in Bonpara, a predominantly Christian village in Natore, police said.
“We have yet to find out any clues, but the nature of the murder was similar to other hacking incidents. It is premature to say that the militants killed him. Let the investigation be over,” Shafiqul Islam, assistant superintendent of police in Baraigram, an upazila or sub-district in Natore, told BenarNews by telephone.
The shopkeeper’s daughter told BenarNews that her father had no enemies.
“We are not sure why he was killed,” Swapna Gomes said.
‘A significant increase’
Sunday’s killings followed the release last week of a report by the U.S. State Department, which said that Bangladesh had experienced “a significant increase in violent extremist activity” in 2015 compared with 2014.
Deadly attacks that occurred last year were notable because some, for the first time, were claimed in the names of transnational extremist groups, including Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda’s branch in the Indian subcontinent (AQIS), the State Department said about Bangladesh in its “2015 Country Reports on Terrorism.”
“[I]in past years violent extremist activity was associated with local groups. Despite these claims, the Government of Bangladesh attributed recent extremist violence to the political opposition and local terrorists,” the State Department reported.
Home Minister Khan has steadily denied that IS or AQIS have a presence in the country and, on Sunday, he irritably repeated that assertion.
“Why you ask me all the time whether IS is involved? We reject the claim that IS is here,” he told Benar.