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Al-Qaeda responsible for Bangladesh blogger killings

Terror group is looking to exploit the country’s 'volatile political situation', says analyst

Al-Qaeda responsible for Bangladesh blogger killings

Protesters demand action over the killing of atheist blogger and science writer Avijit Roy in Dhaka in February (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

Stephan Uttom and Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka

May 6, 2015

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The leader of the al-Qaeda branch in the Indian subcontinent has claimed responsibility for the deaths of four Bangladeshi atheist bloggers, in a video police are still investigating.

The nine-minute video, titled From France to Bangladesh: The Dust Will Never Settle Down, features a message from Asim Umar, head of al-Qaeda Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and was posted on jihadist forums at the weekend. He claimed the group was responsible for killing four Bangladeshi "blasphemer" bloggers, including Ahmed Rajib Haider and US-based writer Avijit Roy.

“We have taught a lesson to blasphemers in France, Denmark, Pakistan and now in Bangladesh,” Umar said in the video, which was translated and published by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity online.

The murder of Haider and Roy in machete attacks in Dhaka in 2013 and 2015 respectively, came amid a series of attacks on Bangladeshi secularist and atheist bloggers as well as on academics campaigning against Islamic radicalism in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Police officials say they are yet to verify an al-Qaeda link to the killings.

“We are still trying to confirm if this video is truly from al-Qaeda. According to our investigations, the attacks on the bloggers were carried out by a local militant group, Ansarullah Bangla Team,” said Monirul Islam, a deputy commissioner of Dhaka police.

“Ansarullah has been behind several targeted killings in Bangladesh and seven of its members admitted killing blogger Rajib in 2013. We suspect five people were behind Roy’s murder and are likely members of the same group,” Islam added.

“This group follows al-Qaeda ideology but we are not sure about their ties with the international terror group.”

Security analysts say there are plenty of reasons to take the al-Qaeda claim seriously.

“Al-Qaeda infiltration into Bangladesh cannot be brushed off. It has changed the pattern of its extremist activities and spread the network in new locations,” said security analyst Major-General (Rtd) Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.

He pointed to a video message from al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri in September 2014 in which he announced the formation of an al-Qaeda branch in the Indian subcontinent.

“Al-Qaeda has backtracked from Middle East countries and they are trying to build networks in South and Southeast Asian countries including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Myanmar. Bangladesh is a major target as it considers the country is moving away from conservative Islamic ideology and practices,” he added.

“Al-Qaeda is trying to take advantage of the country’s volatile political situation. Unless the government takes the matter seriously, things can get worse for the country,” he said.

Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people where moderate Muslims make up some 90 percent of the population, has seen an increase in threats and attacks on secular and atheist writers and bloggers in recent years.

On March 29, atheist blogger Washiqur Rahman was hacked to death in a machete attack in Dhaka. The killing followed the February 26 murder of Avijit Roy in a similar attack in the center of Dhaka that sparked national and international outrage.

Asif Mohiuddin, a self-styled militant atheist blogger, narrowly escaped death after being stabbed by Islamic militants in Dhaka on January 14, 2013.

On February 15 of the same year, another atheist blogger, Ahmed Rajeeb Haider, was murdered near his home in Dhaka days after helping organize a rally of young secularists in the capital to demand the death penalty for war criminals of the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh.

In May 2013, after radical Islamic groups threatened marches calling for the execution of atheist bloggers, the government intensified a crackdown on bloggers and online writers over alleged blasphemous posts.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission also ordered two popular blog sites to erase hundreds of posts deemed derogatory to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

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