Saturday’s violent attack on two publishing houses in Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, has sparked outrage among many who say the slow pace of the investigation and police inaction in the killings of bloggers in the recent past are causing more attacks.
Armed with machetes and cleavers, a gang of three or four men hacked to death publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan at his Jagriti Prakashonee publishing house office in a crowded business complex of Dhaka Saturday afternoon.
The attack took place within an hour after an armed group had entered the office of the Shuddhaswar publishing house in the Lalmatia area of Dhaka and launched a machete and gun attack on publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul and two of his friends - bloggers Tareque Rahim and Ranadipam Basu.
While Tutul, who was apparently the main target in the first attack, and Basu got away with minor injuries, Rahim, with a gunshot injury in his chest, is struggling for his life in a Dhaka hospital.
Imran Sarker, who leads the Blogger and Online Activist Network in Bangladesh, said the attacks on the publishers prove the killers are targeting supporters of the free-thinkers.
“A group present inside the government is patronizing the killers of the bloggers for which the cases of the past killings have not been investigated effectively, and the killers have either not been caught or [are] not being prosecuted properly. This situation is encouraging the killers to carry out new attacks," Sarker, who has received several death threats, told VOA.
“Two attacks on a single day show how fearlessly the killers are operating in the country.” He added.
Attacked for publishing secular books?
Both the publishers who were attacked Saturday had published books written by the slain Bangladeshi American secular author and blogger Avijit Roy.
In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the books became hugely controversial.
Roy, a critic of religious fundamentalism, was hacked to death in Dhaka in February, in what was the first of a series of killings of secular bloggers in Bangladesh this year.
Immediately after Roy was murdered and Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a local Islamist group, claimed responsibility for the attack, Dipan and Tutul - the two publishers, received death threats for their association with Roy’s books.
Hours after Saturday’s attacks, Ansar al Islam, a local Islamist group, claimed responsibility. In a statement, the group said the attacks were “punishment” for publishing books carrying “disparaging comments against Allah and Prophet Muhammad.”
Monirul Islam, a joint commissioner of the detective branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said Saturday’s attacks on the two publishers appeared to be the handiwork of ABT, or an offshoot of the hardline local Islamist group.
“We guess ABT uses different names like Ansar al Islam and others while claiming responsibility for such attacks. We have arrested some ABT men. But some other members of the groups are apparently still at large and they are the culprits behind Saturday’s attacks,” Islam said.
Series of attacks
The latest attacks come amid concerns about the rise of Islamist militant forces in Bangladesh.
According to police, all four atheist bloggers who were hacked to death in Bangladesh earlier this year were killed by ABT, which claims to be the local representative of al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent.
In recent weeks, Bangladesh also saw the killings of two foreigners - an Italian and a Japanese citizen. Last month, bombs targeted a Shi’ite procession, killing two people. The U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online activities of radical Islamic groups, reported that the Islamic State claimed all three of the attacks, but Bangladesh’s government vehemently denied the extremist Sunni militant group has any foothold in the country.
The government instead blamed the attacks on domestic groups like ABT and the opposition alliance led by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami.
Authorities accused of ‘nonchalance’
Many expressed fear that the killers in Bangladesh are broadening their target area and the country could see more killings in the future.
“The issue of the killing of the bloggers and their supporters is not being discussed in the parliament. Major political parties have not protested against the killings in an organized way. The attacks on the two publishers is the result of such nonchalance by the authorities,” Ibrahim Khalil Sobak, a Dhaka-based secular blogger, who has received several death threats, said to VOA.
Farid Ahmed, a Dhaka-based publisher who has published some books on atheist beliefs, received a death threat on his mobile phone Sunday.
“You have published many books written by the atheists. You have committed a good amount of sin,” the threat from an unknown sender said. "Prepare for death.”