About 500 people, mostly Catholics, staged a protest along a major highway to demand justice for the killing of a Catholic businessman in northwestern Bangladesh on June 5.
Sunil Gomes, 72, was hacked to death in his grocer’s shop near Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bonpara, Natore district at around midday local time.
Gomes worked as a gardener at the church for years, and opened a small grocery shop about three years ago.
Gomes’s family said he had no enemies.
“He was an innocent, simple and pious man. We don’t know why he was murdered like this. We are living in fear,” his eldest daughter Sopna Gomes, 45, told ucanews.com.
Father Bikash Rebeiro the parish priest, who joined the protest called for the quick arrest and punishment of attackers.
“This seems a premeditated murder, an exceptionally brutal one which is unprecedented in this area and people are afraid,” Father Gomes told ucanews.com.
“We don’t know who was behind it, but we ask police to hunt down the attackers, arrest them and hand out exemplary punishment,” he said.
The group calling itself Islamic State claimed responsibility for the killing, according to the U.S – based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activities.
Natore police chief Shyamol Kumar Mukherjee dismissed the claim.
“We don’t have any leads into the killing but we don’t see it as a sectarian attack,” said the police chief.
Earlier in the day, three assailants murdered the wife of a prominent senior police officer widely known for his anti-militancy crackdowns in the port city of Chittagong.
Mahmuda Khanam, 33, wife of Police Superintendent Babul Akter was shot as she was putting her six-year-old son on a school bus.
Akter has led several successful crackdowns against banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh in recent years.
Police officials say militants might have targeted Akter’s family in a revenge attack.
“It seems like a planned killing. Akter successfully clamped down on militancy in Chittagong. So, there is a likely link to militants,” Iqbal Bahar, Chittagong Metropolitan police commissioner said.
A sharp rise in extremism
The murders on June 5 were the latest in a series of recent attacks and killings in Bangladesh that many observers have linked to Islamic extremists in Bangladesh.
Nearly all the attacks have targeted liberal intellectuals as well as members of religious minorities.
At least 29 people have been killed in more than 40 such attacks since 2013, according to local media reports.
International terrorist organizations such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for several killings.
However, the ruling Awami League government has dismissed Islamic State or al-Qaeda links, instead blaming the attacks on homegrown militants like Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh.