Stephan Uttom and Rock Ronald Rozario, Dhaka
Updated: November 16, 2017 09:27 AM GMT
Bangladeshi police patrol near the house where officers killed nine suspected Islamist extremists in Dhaka on July 26, 2016, after storming a hideout where they said a mass attack was being planned. About 70 militants have been killed in a government crackdown on extremists. (Photo by AFP)
Police in northern Bangladesh have charged 12 militants over the murder of a Catholic shopkeeper last year, which came amidst a spate of killings by Muslim extremists.
Officers in Natore district submitted a formal charge sheet, a document to start primary investigations, on Nov. 15 over the death of Sunil Gomes, 72.
Gomes was hacked to death at his grocery shop near Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bonpara, Natore on June 5, 2016. The killing sparked a series of protests from Christians in Natore and other parts of the country, including the capital Dhaka.
Of the 12 charged, seven have already been killed in "police crossfire," a euphemism for a shootout, and one is in police custody. The remaining four were charged in absentia.
Natore police chief Biplob Talukder said the militant leader in custody, Rajib Gandhi aka Jahangir, confessed during interrogation that militants from Jamaat-ul Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) plotted and carried out the murder.
"He admitted the killing of Sunil Gomes was a part of their strategy to destabilize the country in a series of killing Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim [Shia] minorities and foreigners," Talukder told ucanews.com.
But Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi, whose diocese covers the area, was skeptical about the charges.
"Only one militant has been held, four are still at large while seven are already dead. I don't consider it as visible progress with the case. Yet, I hope others can be nabbed if the police are sincere about justice," said Bishop Rozario, chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.
The bishop added "we are still hopeful that justice and a fair judgment is possible although it has been delayed."
Swapna Gomes, the victim's daughter, also expressed doubts over the case.
"We are doubtful about justice as police were lackluster in their investigation and their words and actions often don't match. It's been more than a year, but four militants are still hiding. My mother and I are living in fear of being targeted," she told ucanews.com.
Sunil Gomes was killed as part of a series of attacks by Islamic militants in Bangladesh, once considered a model of religious pluralism and tolerance.
Since 2013, about 50 people including atheist bloggers, writers, publishers, members of religious and Islamic minorities and foreigners have been hacked or shot to death by local militants pledging allegiance to transnational terror groups Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
In response, the government has launched a crackdown that has seen about 70 militants, including top leaders, killed and dozens arrested.