Stephan Uttom, Dhaka
Updated: October 12, 2015 11:25 PM GMT
Five men suspected of being Islamic militants and accused of attacking a Christian minister are shown at a police press conference on Oct. 12. (Photo by A.H.K. Topu)
Bangladesh authorities have arrested five suspected members of a banned Islamic militant group following a vicious attack on a Protestant minister.
Police in northwestern Bangladesh's Pabna district, where the attack took place, announced the arrests Oct. 12. A police official said the five men accused in the attack are members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh, a militant group that has been banned by the government. One of the alleged assailants is a local commander in the banned outfit.
On Oct. 5, three peopled entered the home of Luke Sarkar, 50, a minister at Faith Bible Church. According to police and Sarkar, the assailants convinced the minister they wanted to convert to Christianity, then tried to slit Sarkar's throat with knives. The men fled when crowds began to gather outside the home.
S.M. Abu Jahid, assistant superintendent of police in Pabna district, said the attack was an attempt to destabilize the Muslim-majority country.
"[The militant group] has been trying to regroup recently," he said. "The attack on the pastor was aimed at destabilizing the country and putting the government under pressure."
Francis Sarkar, the minister's son, said the family and the local Christian community have been living in fear since the attack.
"The police have provided protection, but we are still living in fear and have restricted our movements," he told ucanews.com.
Claims of a militant link to the attack on the Protestant minister are a worrying sign, according to Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, chairman of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.
"It is frustrating to see a Christian pastor is attacked while the government continues to claim there are no militant and [Islamic State] activities in the country," Bishop Rozario said. "In Bangladesh, the Christian community was previously targeted when Western powers attacked Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. We are afraid this is retaliation for war in the Middle East."
He urged authorities to take the matter seriously and to punish people who believe in extremist ideologies.
The attack on the Protestant minister came shortly after the high-profile killings of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese citizen Sept. 28 and Oct. 3. The jihadist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for these attacks, according to reports, though the government has denied the presence of the group in Bangladesh.
Nevertheless, police have started providing security to foreign Christian missionaries in various parts of the country.
Militant attacks on Christians are rare in Bangladesh. In 2001, however, Islamic militants bombed the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Baniarchar, about 50 kilometers east of Dhaka, killing 10 Sunday Massgoers and injuring dozens.
Harkat-ul-Jihad, another banned local militant outfit, claimed responsibility for the 2001 attack, but no one has been prosecuted for the violence.
Assailants linked to Islamic militants were also allegedly behind the murders of five secular bloggers since 2013, including four this year. The bloggers' writings were often critical of religion and religious extremism.