By Dr. Binodkumar Singh*
On October 5, 2015, three unidentified assailants tried to slit the throat of Luke Sarkar (52), pastor of the Faith Bible Church, at his house in the Ishwardi upazila (sub-district) of Pabna district. He survived the attack with minor injuries. Later, on October 12, five Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) terrorists, including its Pabna ‘regional chief’ Rakibul Islam Rabbi aka Rakib were arrested over the murder attempt.
Separately, on October 5, former chairman of Power Development Board (PDB), a freedom fighter and a pir (revered religious instructor) Muhammad Khijir Khan (66) was killed by seven unidentified armed men by slitting his throat at his Madhya Badda house in the capital Dhaka city for his liberal views about religion. On October 15, Tariqul Islam Tarer alias Mithu, an organizer of JMB arrested from Delduar upazila (sub-district) in Tangail district, in his confession to killing Khijir Khan, stated, “As Khijir Khan was a so-called pir and his activities were contradictory to religious ideology, it was our (JMB) responsibility as believers to kill him.”
Shockingly, since December 2013, five pirs and six of their family members and assistants had been murdered by Islamist extremists. On September 7, 2015, assailants shot to death Hazrat Moulana Mohammad Salahuddin Khan Bishal (30), a pir, in his sleep in Vorotpur area of Atghoria upazila (sub-district) in Pabna district. On September 5, 2015, unknown assailants slit the throat of a pir named Rahmat Ullah (60), along with an attendant inside his shrine in Bayezid area of Chittagong city in Chittagong district. On August 29, 2014, the chief imam of the Supreme Court mosque Shiekh Nurul Islam Faruqi (60) was slaughtered at his East Rajabazar house in Dhaka city by 10 unidentified assailants. On December 22, 2013, assailants slit the throats of six people, including pir Lutfur Rahman Faruk (60); Faruk’s son Monir Hossain; the house’s caretaker Monju; and Faruk’s followers Shaheen, Rasel, and Mojibur Rahma at Ramkrishna Mission Road in Dhaka city. Islamic extremists were largely blamed for all these incidents.
Besides the pirs, the foreigners in Bangladesh have become targets of Islamic extremists in recent months. On September 28, 2015, Italian charity worker Cesare Tavella (50), a technical director working at Netherlands-based development organization Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), was killed by three unidentified armed men in Dhaka city’s Gulshan area. Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Intelligence Group, a website that tracks online activity of jihadi organizations, said a communiqué by Islamic State (IS) claimed that “a security detachment” tracked and killed Cesare with ‘silenced weapons’ in the streets of Dhaka city. On October 3, 2015, Japanese national Hoshi Kunio (66), researching on a new variety of grass was gunned down by three unidentified armed men when he was going by rickshaw to his two acres grass farm at Alutari in Kaunia sub-district of Rangpur district. Reuters and Vice News quoted the IS as tweeting: “There will continue to be a series of ongoing security operations against nationals of crusader coalition countries; they will not have safety or a livelihood in Muslim lands.”
Moreover, the Islamist extremists have been targeting secular and free thinking people. So far, four bloggers have been killed in 2015 by suspected Islamist terrorists. On August 7, Niladri Chattopadhyay Niloy alias Niloy Neel (28), a secular blogger and a Gonojagoron Mancha (People’s Resurgence Platform) activist was hacked to death at his Goran residence in the Khilgaon area of Dhaka city; on May 12, Ananta Bijoy Das (32), a progressive writer, blogger, editor of science fiction magazine Jukti, and an organizer of Gonojagoron Mancha, was hacked to death, using machetes, by four assailants at Subidbazar Bankolapara residential area of Sylhet city in Sylhet district. On March 30, another blogger and online activist, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu (27), was hacked to death in broad daylight in Dhaka city for his allegedly atheist views; and on February 26, Bangladesh-born American citizen blogger Avijit Roy (42), the founder of the Mukta-mona.com blog, was hacked to death in Dhaka city.
Further, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT, Volunteer of Allah Bangla Team) on September 23, 2015, issued a hit list of secular bloggers, writers and activists around the world, including nine bloggers based in the UK, seven in Germany, two in the US, one in Canada and one in Sweden. The statement featured a logo comprising a black flag carrying the seal of the prophet Mohammed and the phrase: “We do not forget, we do not forgive” in English. Similarly, on October 17, Gonojagoron Mancha spokesperson Imran H. Sarker was threatened with death allegedly by a member of Islamic State Bangladesh (ISB). A Facebook user named ‘Araf Al Islam ISB’ issued the threat through Imran’s Facebook message box saying, “Your death is imminent. You will be killed in the way the two foreigners were killed.”
Distressingly, Chief Justice of Bangladesh, Surendra Kumar Sinha on October 5, 2015, said, “We are trying hard to combat terrorism. It is a global issue, which India and Bangladesh are facing at the same time. Terrorism has become a major problem now. ISIS was behind several acts, such as burning of Jordanian pilot, mass slaughter, beheadings, stoning, etc. We need to put an end to these acts by ISIS. In Bangladesh, terrorism has become a serious threat to our national security. It has become a threat to life, economy and political as well as religious pluralism in Bangladesh.”
Disturbingly, the killing of bloggers in Bangladesh propelled the country onto the Global Impunity Index of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The CPJ, in a report published on October 8, 2015, said: “At least four Bangladeshi bloggers have been hacked to death by apparent Islamic extremists this year alone, and a total of five of Bangladesh’s seven victims of unsolved murders over the last decade are bloggers who criticized religious extremism. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the nominally secular ruling Awami League party have done little to speak out for justice in these crimes, allowing political interests to trump rule of law.”
Indeed, the recent killings of foreigners’ in Bangladesh have raised concern from foreign governments about the danger of violent attacks against their citizens and prompted a debate over whether the Islamic State or other violent radical Islamist groups are behind such attacks. Nevertheless, these killings are a reaction to the assertiveness demonstrated by the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, as a result of which the threat from Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh has been minimized. Moreover, the speedy War Crimes Trials is another worrying factor for the radicals to escalate such incidents. However, this culture of impunity where criminals find a safe route after committing crimes no matter how heinous, has destroyed the law and order and given rise to a society of injustice and indifference.
*Dr. Binodkumar Singh is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management. He can be reached at [email protected]