On the fourth anniversary of secular blogger Avijit Roy’s brutal killing outside a Dhaka book festival, Bangladeshi police on Tuesday said they had submitted a charge sheet to the home ministry against suspected militants linked to his death.
Should the ministry approve the sheet, it would pave the way for the long-awaited first indictment of suspects in the Feb. 26, 2015, slaying of Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen and science writer.
Members of Ansar Al Islam – a militant outfit also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) – allegedly used machetes to hack Roy to death on the Dhaka University campus as he was leaving the annual Ekushey Book Fair that night. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, who tried to save him, suffered serious stab wounds in the attack.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman said counter terrorism and transnational crimes unit investigators must have home ministry approval before proceeding.
“We have sent the charge sheet to the home ministry for sanction. We do not know whether the charge sheet has been approved by the ministry,” he said, adding it was presented on Feb.19 after finishing it a day earlier.
Efforts by BenarNews to contact Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Bonya told a BBC Bangla interviewer that no one from the government or police had contacted her regarding the investigation.
“After the attack on us, we were continuously hearing them saying ‘we have arrested someone who was the mastermind,’ but the story changes after a few months,” she said on Tuesday.
Police have identified six alleged ABT members responsible for killing Roy.
Four of them were arrested and remain locked up: Mozammel Hossain (alias Saimon), Abu Siddique Sohel (alias Sakib), Arafat Rahman Siam (alias Sajjad) and Shafiur Rahman Farabi. Three were linked to the killing while Farabi was charged with instigating the attack through Facebook posts.
All four have confessed to the crime, according to police.
Two others fled before being taken into custody. They are former army Maj. Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque (alias Major Zia) and Akram Hossain (alias Abir).
Mukul Rana, identified as the operation commander of Roy’s killing, died in a shootout with the police.
Police believe 12 people were involved in Roy’s death but have not been able to identify the other five, according to the charge sheet viewed by BenarNews. Investigators have not been able to determine the names of the other suspects but have identified them through their association to the militant group, which is linked with the al-Qaeda global terror network.
Police are expected to submit a supplementary charge sheet after the others are arrested, Masudur Rahman said.
Monirul Islam, chief of the Bangladeshi police’s counter terrorism and transnational crimes unit, told reporters on Feb. 18 that Roy was killed because of his openly dissenting views.
Roy ran Mukto-Mona (Free Mind), a leading blog for free thinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists and humanists in Bangladesh.
“He came under attack from the extremists for his thoughts. The killers rented houses in Uttara and Elephant Road in Dhaka to complete their operation,” Islam said.
He said the killers followed Roy after he returned to Bangladesh from the United States where he resided.
Islam identified Major Zia as the lead planner.
“Major Zia has gone underground. He is now inactive. We have not had any update on his activities since the murders of gay-rights activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy,” Monirul Islam said. The activists were hacked to death in April 2016.
Security analyst retired Brig Gen. Sakhawat Hossain, meanwhile, questioned the pace of getting justice.
“Starting from investigation, everything related to the trial of Avijit’s murder has been very slow. The investigation has taken four years. So, I think completion of the trial will take more time,” he told BenarNews.
Roy’s father, Ajay Roy, expressed his own frustration about the investigation.
“I have heard that the police finalized the charge sheet. I do not know anything more than this,” he told BenarNews.
“The activists used to protest and go to the Martyrs’ Memorial, demanding a trial for Avijit’s killers. How many days would they protest? Patience has a limit,” he said, referring to a monument in Dhaka that honors Bangladeshis who fought against Pakistan during the 1971 war of independence.
Since February 2013, when secular activist and blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was killed by extremists near his home in Dhaka, at least 10 writers, bloggers, publishers, activists and intellectuals have been slain in machete attacks by Muslim militants.
All of the other attacks occurred in a spate that began in February 2015. The last one was the slaying of activist-law student Nazimuddin Samad in April 2016.
Only two of the cases, Haider and Washiqur Rahman Babu have seen the alleged killers go to trial. Neither has resulted in verdicts.
On Tuesday, Robin Ahsan, the publisher of Sraban Publishing house, showed a poster of Roy marking the “dark day” at the Ekushey fair, which runs through the end of the month.
Admirers stopped to remember Roy.
“Today is Avijit Day. Killing a person for dissent opinion is a heinous crime,” Sharifus Saleqin, wrote on the poster.
Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.