Bangladesh Officials Reject Al-Qaeda Claim in LGBT Activist’s Killing

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160426-BD-mannan-update-620.jpg Relatives and friends attend funeral prayers for Bangladeshi activist Xulhaz Mannan in Dhaka, April 26, 2016.

Bangladeshi authorities Tuesday rejected a claim by the local branch of al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate that its members hacked to death two men in Dhaka, including a gay rights activist who edited Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine.

Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladeshi wing of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), claimed responsibility for killing Roopbaan editor Xulhaz Mannan and K. Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy inside Mannan’s Dhaka apartment on Monday afternoon.

In a message posted on Twitter, the militant group said the “Mujahideen of Ansar al-Islam” killed the pair because they had been promoting homosexuality.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sarder dismissed AQIS’s claim of responsibility in Monday’s killings.

“In the past, we saw such claims for murder in social media, but those were fake. The killers used brands to add value to their name,” Sarder told BenarNews.

The double- homicide brought to four the number of people killed in machete attacks on liberal-minded people in Bangladesh in the month of April. The killings followed a series of attacks by suspected militants last year that claimed the lives of four secular writers and a publisher.

Although the police rejected the AQIS claim, Bangladeshi authorities in 2015 had pinned blame for the murders of bloggers on Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which is also known as Ansar al-Islam.

On Tuesday, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters that no arrests had been made in connection with the killings of Mannan, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Tonoy, a dramatist who worked for an association of Bangladeshi playwrights.

Meanwhile, the general secretary of the ruling Awami League party vowed that the government would catch the perpetrators of the killings.

“The bloggers and the cultural activists have been made targets of attacks. The government is not taking the attacks lightly. Legal actions will follow against the perpetrators; none of them can escape,” Syed Ashraful Islam told a news conference Tuesday.

In northwestern Bangladesh, officials said they had caught two suspects in connection with Saturday’s machete-killing of A.F.M. Rezaul Karim Siddique, an English professor at Rajshahi University.

“We have arrested two jihadists for their link with the murder of Professor Siddique. We will not disclose their names formally now. We will finish the investigation in the next seven days and we will let you know,” Nahidul Islam, deputy commissioner of the Rajshahi detective branch detective branch, told BenarNews.

The two suspects were linked to Islami Chhatra Shibir, a student group affiliated with faith-based opposition party Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), according to officials.

Siddique’s killing followed the April 7 machete-murder in Dhaka of Nazimuddin Samad, a law student and secular activist.

Culture of blame

When news of the latest killings came out, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday accused leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – Jamaat’s ally in the opposition – of being behind them.

A BNP leader shot back on Tuesday, saying that the ruling Awami League party had fostered a culture of blaming the opposition for all bad things in the country.

“The government blames us for every criminal activity. They say IS or al-Qaeda is not present and the local militants have been doing it. If that be the case, you catch them and prove that the local criminals are using IS and al-Qaeda brands,” BNP standing committee member Mahbubur Rahman told BenarNews.

Expanded targets

According to a security analyst, Brig. Gen. Sakhawat Hossain, the people carrying out the machete killings are taking advantage of this bickering between the ruling and opposition parties.

“What I can say is those who have been carrying out such killings bear the extremist views like [those espoused by] IS and al-Qaeda. The perpetrators have been exploiting the political blame game among the parties,” Hossain told BenarNews.

The “silence” of a majority of the Bangladeshi public in pressing the government to stop the killings has also allowed this bloodshed to occur, he said.

“First they targeted the bloggers and online activists whom they branded [as being] against Islam. Now, the list of the targets has been expanded to all minorities, cultural activists and homosexuals. We have to stop it. People must speak against these killings. There must be political space for all parties to fight the militants,” Hossain said.

Ameena Mohsin, a professor at Dhaka University, echoed Hossain’s comments.

“You see rival political parties accusing each other for the killings. Instead they should talk to each other to curb the threat of militancy. Is it acceptable that a professor would be hacked along the roadside or killers would force themselves into a house and kill people?” Mohsin told BenarNews.

She said citizen groups should initiate a national discussion about the killings.

“Why are people mum? They are in fear now and the common people are getting used to day-to-day violence and killings. This is a dangerous syndrome for our society,” Mohsin said.

‘A beloved friend’

Elsewhere, international condemnation over the recent killings kept spilling in.

“Violent and brutal acts that we have witnessed over the last few days need to be condemned by all political and religious leaders,” Robert Watkins, the U.N.’s resident coordinator in Bangladesh, said in a statement.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Mannan as “a beloved friend and advocate for human rights and dignity.”

“We offer our full support to the government of Bangladesh as they investigate these murders and bring the perpetrators to justice. We remain committed to the principles that were so important to Xulhaz, and we promise to support all those who work on behalf of tolerance and human rights in Bangladesh,” Kerry said.

However, a U.S.-based global rights watchdog criticized Sheikh Hasina’s government for not doing enough to bring the perpetrators of the spate of killings to justice.

“The slaughter of two men advocating the basic rights of Bangladesh’s beleaguered LGBT community should prompt a thorough investigation, aimed at prosecuting those responsible,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“The government needs to protect activists and to call a halt to the impunity that links this chain of vicious murders.”


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