The head of Bangladesh’s police counterterrorism unit tells the New York Times that among the greatest challenges facing law enforcement in containing the ongoing wave of Islamist murders of secular, LGBT, or anti-Islamist bloggers and public figures is the fact that the public supports them.
Monirul Islam, who the Times notes assumed his position earlier this year, said that authorities are especially concerned about turning public support against them and in favor of roving bands of machete-wielding Islamists, often enacting death sentences doled out through fatwas at radical mosques.
“In general, people think they have done the right thing, that it’s not unjustifiable to kill,” he told the Times. The newspaper notes that, reflecting a sensitivity towards the fact that public opinion supports the murder of political and religious dissidents, authorities have issued statements asking bloggers and public figures “not to criticize Islam” or to promote “unnatural sex.” Homosexuality remains illegal in Bangladesh.
Authorities also seem to be going out of their way to blame anyone but Islamist killers for these murders. This week, following the shooting and subsequent hacking to death of 70-year-old Anando Gopal Ganguly, a Hindu priest, Home Minister Asaduzaman Khan accused the government of Israel of staging the killing. “These killings are part of a national and international conspiracy. Those who are carrying out these incidents are communicating with Mossad,” he proclaimed.
As a result of the developing perception that law enforcement is supporting the movement to eradicate voices dissenting from strict Islamic law, many of those targeted do not trust the police. Among those, witnesses say, was 35-year-old Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of the nation’s only LGBT interest magazine. Mannan was hacked to death in April, along with two others, by Islamist terrorists. Mannan, an anonymous friend told the U.K.’s The Telegraph that Mannan did not trust authorities, as they had repeatedly suppressed public LGBT events and cracked down on LGBT groups, arresting known gay and lesbian Bangladeshis. “As a result of the detentions, Xulhaz and others were reluctant to go to the police and inform them of the threat to them,” the source claimed.
In addition to Mannan, among those public thinkers killed in Bangladesh in the past year have been secular Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy; Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger who ran a site called “Free Thinker” (“Mukto-Mona”), and anti-religion blogger Nazimuddin Samad. The New York Times reports that at least 39 people have been the victims of Islamist murders since 2013, many hacked to death by machete-wielding terrorists. Twelve of these murders have occurred since April.
Islam, the police counterterrorism chief, cited two Islamist groups as the primary culprits: Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansar al-Islam. Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh is less of a threat, he says, because they are “less professional” and have made a series of errors in their targeting, resulting in the killing of popular and devout Muslims. More of these errors, he suggests, could turn public opinion against them.
Ansar al-Islam, with its network of imams preaching murder and close-knit leadership organization, is a greater threat, he says. He notes that police do not believe that either group has ties to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, “though those groups have occasionally claimed credit for the attacks.” The Islamic State, in particular, has taken credit for various murders and used its international propaganda arms to recruit Bangladeshi jihadists.
In the April edition of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s English-language propaganda magazine, the writers devoted a significant percentage of pages to the jihadis of “Bengal,” as they call the region. “Bengal is an important region for the Khilafah [caliphate] and the global jihad due to its strategic geographic position,” one jihadi said in an interview, as it straddles India and Pakistan/Afghanistan. Another feature highlighted a slain Bengali jihadi as a hero.