Police in Bangladesh arrested over 8,000 people this week in connection to a wave of hacking murders by radical Islamists, targeting secular bloggers, professors, and LGBT advocates.
3,245 people were arrested on Sunday alone, India’s NDTV reports, with the number surpassing 8,000 between Friday and Monday. Those arrested are believed to have ties to Bangladeshi Islamic groups and have working relationships with roving gangs of Islamists who have killed dozens of secular bloggers, Hindu figures, advocates for gay rights, and, on some occasions, devout Muslims by mistake.
“We’ve arrested 3,245 people including 34 terrorists on the third day of the nationwide anti-militant drive,” deputy inspector general AKM Shahidur Rahman told Agence-France Presse. Reuters adds that of those arrested, at least 119 are known members of jihadi outfits. Most arrested were taken in under warrants for a variety of related offenses like illegal firearms possession, not for the murder of any of those vocal critics of Islam killed in the last three years.
The group most targeted in this particular raid is the banned Islamic group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the AFP notes, though members of another Islamist group, Hizb ut Tahrir, have also been detained. Among them is a man believed to be a senior leader of the latter group, Omar Faruq. Reuters adds to that list the group Ansarullah Bangla Team.
In addition to those detained, police killed “several” suspects in shootouts while attempting to arrest them.
Two notable Islamic groups are absent from the police list: The Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Both have taken official responsibility for a number of machete hacking murders in the country, with the Islamic State most recently claiming that its mob murdered a popular Hindu priest in the nation’s north, in addition to 20 other attacks. Bangladeshi police insist neither group has a notable presence in the country and that they are merely taking claim for the attacks to bolster their international image.
The thousands of arrests of individuals supportive of the murder of outspoken secularists and other infidels in the eyes of radical Muslims is a reflection of the belief among law enforcement in the south Asian nation that the general public in Bangladesh supports the murderers and the belief that death is the only option for those who reject Sharia law is mainstream.
“In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill,” Monirul Islam, the head of Bangladesh’s counterterrorism unit, told the New York Times last week. Police have expressed significant concern about public opinion, issuing statements asking individuals to refrain from “criticizing Islam” in public or promoting “unnatural sex” while they attempt to stop the recent cycle of murders. Some officials have gone as far as blaming Israel, not radical Islamist murderers, for the hacking attacks.
Among those killed in the past year by roving gangs wielding guns, machetes, knives, or all three have been a number of bloggers who have dared write against imposing Sharia law, a popular Hindu priest, and the editor of the nation’s only LGBT rights interest magazine. Homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh.