In Bangladesh, Religious Extremists Stalk 'Free Thinkers'


The body of murdered Bangladeshi blogger Niladri Chakrabarty is moved from his home in Dhaka, Aug. 7, 2015. [AFP]


A photo of blogger Niladri Chottopaddhya, who went by the pen name Niloy Neel, is shown on a cellular phone in Dhaka, Aug. 7, 2015. [AFP]


Relatives of slain blogger Ananta Bijoy Das react after seeing his body in Sylhet, northeastern Bangladesh, May 12, 2015. [AFP]


Activists march in protest of the killing of blogger Ananta Bijoy Das, as they walk near a banner (top right) depicting the late Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, May 12, 2015. [AFP]


The body of blogger Washiqur Rahman lies in a morgue at Dhaka Medical College, March 30, 2015. [AFP]


A relative of Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at the morgue, March 30, 2015. [AFP]


A police forensics team investigates the scene in Dhaka where blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death with machetes after leaving a book fair at Dhaka University, Feb. 26, 2015. [AFP]


Rafida Ahmed Banna, Avijit Roy’s wife, is carried away after being injured in the machete attack, Feb. 26, 2015. [AFP]


A secular activist takes part in a torch-light protest in Dhaka against the killing of Avijit Roy, March 5, 2015. [AFP]


A day after the murder of 26-year-old blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, mourners gather and carry a casket holding his remains in Dhaka, Feb. 16, 2013. [AFP]

Updated at 6 p.m. ET on 2015-08-28

The five men died for speaking out against a wave of fundamentalist religious sentiment sweeping across their country, whose constitution embraces secularism as one of its “high ideals.”

Bloggers Niladri Chottopaddhya, Ananta Bijoy Das, Washiqur Rahman, Avijit Roy and Ahmed Rajib Haider were killed by suspected Islamists in the same manner: they were hacked to death with machetes.

Four were killed in 2015. But the spate of murders targeting “free thinkers” – as secularists and atheists are known in Bangladesh – began in February 2013, with Haider’s killing.

He died after playing an active role in public demonstrations at Dhaka’s Shahbag Square against accused war criminals from Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence.

Four of the five killings were carried out in public. But the Aug. 7 killing of Chottopaddhya, who went by the pen name Niloy Neel, was different. His killers burst into his apartment home in a Dhaka suburb, where they went after him with the long knives as they confined his wife in another room.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the South Asian branch of al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for three of the murders.

“If your ‘Freedom of Speech’ maintains no limits, then widen your chests for ‘Freedom of our Machetes’,” said a statement issued Friday by Ansar Al Islam, the Bangladesh branch of AQIS.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Niladri Chottopaddhya as Niladri Chakrabarty.


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