A Bangladesh-based hardline Islamist group last week issued a “hit list,” threatening to kill 20 outspoken Bangladeshi bloggers, writers and activists, most of whom have already fled the country in the face of continuing threats.
The list, issued by banned militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), raises fears that the Islamic extremists are apparently seeking to take their attack on the so-called “freethinkers” beyond the territory of the southeast Asian country.
In the past two years, about 10 secular bloggers and their supporters have been killed by religious extremists in Bangladesh because of their writings criticizing religious extremism.
In response to the threats and violence, some have moved abroad.
The ABT list names Bangladeshi citizens who have since moved to Britain, Germany, the United States, Canada and Sweden, and calls on the government to revoke their citizenship.
"Cancel the Bangladeshi citizenship of the enemies of Islam and madrassa education, the atheists, apostates, unbeliever bloggers, and agents of India who are acting against the instructions of Allah, Prophet Mohammad and the establishment of the Islamic rule,” the statement said.
Islamic extremists drew up a list of 84 online atheists in 2013 and called for their public execution, sending the bloggers in Bangladesh into hiding.
In the past 2½ years, five atheist bloggers, including four who appeared on the 2013 list, and five secular activists who supported them have been hacked to death.
Earlier this month, ABT also sent text messages to the mobile phones of some prominent citizens in Bangladesh, threatening to kill them.
ABT has claimed responsibility for killing three of the four bloggers this year, and Bangladesh police believe the hardline group has been behind most of the killings.
Bangladesh police spokesman Monirul Islam in Dhaka said that in recent weeks more than a dozen key members of the group had been arrested, including Abul Bashar, “chief” of ABT and a suspect in the case of the murder of American author and blogger Avijit Roy.
“We have identified most members of the group (of ABT) who were involved with the recent killings of the bloggers. We need some time to arrest them. For operational reasons, we cannot reveal why the arrests are being delayed,” Islam told VOA.
Still at large
However, as the latest hit list from the ABT surfaces, many believe that the masterminds behind the killings in Bangladesh are still at large.
Islam said police need time to check out the authenticity of the latest hit list.
However, the bloggers and activists whose names appear on the ABT list released last week are of the view that the list has exposed them to new threats.
“Although it is not clear if ABT actually issued the list, its circulation over the Internet could jeopardize the lives of some freethinkers. The list apparently seeks to create hysteria against us,” London-based atheist blogger Arifur Rahman told VOA.
“It has the potential to inspire some lone-wolf type young radical Muslims to plan attacks on some of the bloggers and activists who feature in this list and are living outside Bangladesh," Rahman said.
Some Bangladeshi bloggers based in Britain approached police there after the publication of the list.
British authorities advised them to stay alert and adopt precautions to minimize the threats of the attacks, media reports said.
Ajanta Deb Roy is a London-based activist with Bangladesh’s Gonojagoron Mancho or National Awakening Platform, a group that supports Bangladesh’s war crime tribunal and seeks the execution of all who were involved in war crimes during the 1971 war.
Deb Roy, who is named on the ABT list, said those who have issued the latest list aim to instill fear among the pro-liberation progressive secular forces of Bangladesh.
'We will fight'
“They want us to move away from the path of activism. None of our fellow activists, many of whom are bloggers, will come out from our way of activism. Until our last breath, we will fight for the sake of secularism, freethinking, human rights and religious tolerance,” Deb Roy told VOA.
Bangladeshi blogger Ananya Azad, who fled to Germany after facing new death threats earlier this year, said he was not surprised to find his name on the recent ABT list.
“The fundamentalist killers reached Europe, we got the proof earlier. They threatened that they would come over to my place to kill me. I cannot say that I am really safe, even in Germany,” Azad, 25, told VOA.
“They want me to stop writing. But I am dead sure that in no situation I can stop writing. With my secular and rationalist belief I shall keep on writing as long as I am alive," he said.