Dhaka police Wednesday identified a top leader of a Bangladeshi militant group as one of those who planned the killings of four secular bloggers, a publisher and two gay-rights activists.
Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) leader Selim masterminded machete-attacks dating to early last year that killed bloggers Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman, Niladri Chottopadhya and Nazimuddin Samad, LBGT activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, and publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan, police allege.
“Disposing of the cases of the killings of bloggers, the publisher and LGBT rights activists is our priority now. So, we need to catch Selim,” Masudur Rahman, the spokesman for Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), told BenarNews.
Roy was a Bangladeshi-born U.S. citizen and Mannan, the editor of Bangladesh’s first magazine specializing in coverage of LGBT issues, worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Dhaka.
The DMP also announced that it was renewing a bounty of 500,000 taka (U.S. $6,380) on Selim’s head, asking for the public for information that could lead to his arrest. In May, police posted the same bounty on Selim (whose aliases include Iqbal, Mamun and Hadi), but did not identify him as an alleged mastermind of those killings.
“He (Selim) is a big fish. Inshallah (God Willing), we will catch him soon,” Rahman said.
The police, however, divulged no evidence to show how Selim was involved in planning the seven killings, which occurred in six attacks.
Since February 2015, Bangladesh has seen a wave of machete killings by suspected Muslim extremists who have targeted dozens of secular bloggers, intellectuals, religious minorities, foreigners and others. Police have blamed ABT for the slayings of secular bloggers and writers.
“We will punish all the killers, I can assure the people,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews this week.
Seeking public’s help
Smaller-scale extremist attacks have died down since June, but the mass-killing last month of 20 hostages during an overnight siege by extremists at a café in Dhaka rocked Bangladesh.
The police have pinned responsibility for the July 1 attack on another home-grown militant group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen (JMB), although Islamic State claimed that its supporters in Bangladesh carried out the massacre. Since last year, and even after the café attack, the government has denied that IS has a presence in the country.
In pursuing Selim, police this time around are asking the public to use social media and a new mobile app, Hello CT – which was designed by the Dhaka police department – to send information that could help authorities catch him.
Selim’s name was among six suspected ABT members who were the targets of wanted notices and bounties issued by police on May 19.
Two months ago police arrested one of the six suspects, whom they identified as Sumon Patwari.
Based on information extracted from the suspect, the police carried out an operation in which a suspect known as “Sharif,” who was identified as one of the alleged killers of Avijit Roy and several others, was killed in a shootout with authorities in Dhaka on June 19.
At least three other suspected ABT members, including group leader Md. Abul Bashar (pictured) and activists Jafran al-Hassan and Julhas Biswas were arrested in September in connection with the murders of Roy and another secular blogger, Ananta Bijoy Das.
Roy’s father, Ajoy, said he would be satisfied only when the killers of his son were brought to justice.
“Yes, I think the bounty announcement will work to catch all of the militants. Sumon Patwari was arrested after the police announced a bounty on him. Sharif, who was killed in a gunfight with the police, was also one of the killers of Avijit Roy,” Ajoy Roy told BenarNews.