DHAKA–The US suspects that Bangladesh terrorist groups are gradually linking up with global Islamic militant organizations.
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs Nisha Desai Biswal made the assertion on Thursday after meeting with Bangladeshi Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal. Biswal is currently visiting Bangladesh following the murder of USAID worker and gay rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and another man on April 25.
A major breakthrough into the murder of Mannan and his friend is yet to be made, according to police sources. Law enforcement officials have also made no headway in the machete attacks on five people that took place in the eight days following Mannan’s killing on April 25.
Soon after meeting the Home Affairs Minister, Biswal told journalists, “Various organizations like IS and al-Qaeda have been laying claims to the murders and we take into consideration these claims.”
The US official was alluding to recent murders, including that of Nikhil Chandra Joarder in Tangail on April 30. Responsibility for the killing was allegedly claimed by Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).
Ansar Al Islam, an alleged offshoot of al-Qaeda in Bangladesh, had also claimed responsibility for the murder of Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Samir Mahbub Tonoy for “working day and night to promote homosexuality among the people of” Bangladesh.
Biswal stated that Washington wants to work with Dhaka to prevent these groups from building a base in Bangladesh.
During the discussion with the Home Affairs Minister and other officials including Bangladesh’s Inspector General of Police Shahidul Hoque, Biswal had reportedly raised the possibility that the recent killing of Xulhaz, following the murders of Italian Cesare Tavella and Japanese Hoshi Kunio last year, may be an attempt to threaten US interests in Bangladesh.
Asked how Dhaka had responded to this possibility, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told Bdnews24.com, “We told them our detectives were able to identify suspects every time we sensed an attempt to make such a connection.”
Oppose gay activists
While the home minister said that there is a right to free speech in Bangladesh, he also pointed out, “There is an attempt to create a movement out of it [gay rights activism]. It is unnatural and is prohibited by our Constitution and our religion. It is also a criminal offense.”
Kamal told local media on the Saturday following Xulhaz’s murder that three suspects have been identified in connection with the incident. Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesperson Maruf Hossain Sarder told Asia Times that no new information has surfaced since then.
In addition to Xulhaz and Joarder, four other individuals have been killed in similar machete deaths across Bangladesh. However, the authorities have waived these off as petty crimes. Prior to Xulhaz, Professor AFM Rezaul Karim Siddique was hacked to death in Rajshahi on April 23.
AFP has reported that at least 30 members of religious minorities, secular bloggers, other liberal activists, foreigners and intellectuals have been murdered by suspected militants in Bangladesh in the last three years.
Biswal also met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday. Later, during her speech at the National Parliament, Hasina said, “There’ll be no place for terrorism and militancy on the soil of Bangladesh. Many will try to play with the country’s fate in the name of militancy. But, I won’t allow such game to happen as long as I remain alive.”
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist and editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.