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Bangladesh

Protestant pastor escapes murder attempt in Bangladesh

Government urged to ensure the safety of churches and Christian leaders

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Protestant pastor escapes murder attempt in Bangladesh
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A Protestant pastor in northwestern Bangladesh was wounded and narrowly escaped a murder attempt, which a Catholic lay leader alleges was made by Muslim fundamentalists.

Three men on Oct. 5 attacked Pastor Luke Sarkar of the Faith Bible Church at Ishwardi in Pabna district, with knives at his residence. He sustained injuries to the throat. The attackers fled as people in the vicinity responded to the pastor's cries for help.

The attack on the 50-year-old pastor comes amid an atmosphere of tension and fear in the country following the murder of an Italian aid worker in Dhaka on Sept. 28 and a Japanese man in northern Rangpur district on Oct 3. The jihadist Islamic State group allegedly has claimed responsibility for the killings of the foreigners.

The attackers entered Sarkar's home pretending to be candidates for Christian conversion.

"I don't know details about their identity ... They expressed interest in Christianity and wanted to convert," Sarkar told ucanews.com.

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"As the conversation proceeded, my wife moved to another room. Suddenly, one of them pressed my mouth and the other two tried to slit my throat. As I started screaming, people gathered around and they fled quickly," Sarkar said.

"I have been preaching the Gospel for five years but never been threatened or attacked," he added.

Local police officials say a case has been filed and one person has been detained for questioning.

"We are investigating the case seriously given the current circumstances over alleged militant attacks on foreigners," said Biman Kumar Das, officer-in-charge at Ishwardi police station.

The attack on Sarkar might be an act of militancy, says Nirmol Rozario, secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association.

"The killing of foreigners and the attack on the pastor might be connected and a retaliatory act in response to Western attacks on [the Islamic State group]," said Rozario, a Catholic.

"We appeal to the government to ensure the safety of churches and Christian religious leaders," he said.

Rozario said his association would organize a protest rally in Dhaka to condemn the attack and demand justice.

Islam dominates in Bangladesh, with Muslims comprising about 90 percent of the country's 160 million people.

The country, which has the fourth largest Muslim population, has had security issues for non-Muslims ever since the country's Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging the legality of a constitutional provision recognizing Islam as the state religion.

Since then, there have been incidents of looting of churches and violence against Christian men and women as well as a spate of murders of atheist bloggers, suggesting inroads by Muslim fundamentalists in the country.

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