A Christian was knifed to death after Sunday prayers near a church in northwest Bangladesh in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
Police said unidentified attackers murdered the 65-year-old in the village of Bonpara, home to one of the oldest Christian communities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. “Sunil Gomes was hacked to death at his grocery store just near a church at Bonpara village,” said Shafiqul Islam, deputy police chief of Natore district.
Isis claimed responsibility for the murder through its Amaq news agency, according to the Site monitoring group, saying it was “part of a series of operations” in Bangladesh.
The killing came hours after the wife of a senior anti-terrorism officer was murdered in the southeastern city of Chittagong by suspected members of a banned local extremist group.
Bangladesh is reeling from a wave of murders of secular and liberal activists, and religious minorities, that have left more than 40 people dead in three years. Authorities have blamed homegrown Islamists for the attacks, which have spiked in recent weeks, rejecting claims of responsibility from Isis and a South Asia branch of al-Qaida.
Bangladesh’s secular government has accused political rivals including the largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, of trying to destabilise the country. Experts say a government crackdown on opponents, including a ban on Jamaat following a protracted political crisis, has pushed many towards extremism.
An investigating officer, Inspector Abdur Razzak, said the motive for the latest killing was unclear, but it was similar to those of Hindus and members of other religious minorities in recent months.
Father Bikash Hubert Rebeiro, from the Bonpara Catholic church, said Gomes, whose brother is a priest, used to work as a gardener at the church and was “known for his humility”.
“He attended Sunday prayers at my church and then went to his grocery store. The next thing we know he was hacked to death,” Rebeiro said. “I can’t imagine how anyone can kill such an innocent man.”
Hours before Gomes was killed, three unidentified men stabbed and then shot Mahmuda Begum in the head as she walked her son to a school bus stop near her home, said Chittagong deputy police commissioner Moktar Hossain. Begum was the wife of Babul Akter, who led several operations against the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh militant group in Chittagong in recent months.
“We suspect JMB or local Islamist extremists for the attack,” Hossain said. “Akter led successful anti-militant raids in Chittagong in which several JMB men were arrested.”
Bangladesh’s home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, said the attack was revenge for Akter’s role in tracking down militants. “Babul Akter is a skilled and honest officer who played vital roles in combating militants,” he said. “That’s why they killed his wife as they could not find him.”
A Hindu trader was hacked to death last week, days after a homoeopathic doctor was murdered along with a Buddhist monk. On Sunday, Isis claimed responsibility for the monk’s murder, with Amaq saying its fighters killed him at a Buddhist temple in the remote southeast. The group had previously claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu trader.
At least 10 people have been killed by suspected Islamist militants in the last 10 weeks. An Italian-born Catholic priest was shot and critically injured in the north last year – an attack later claimed by Isis. Unknown attackers also tried to kill a pastor in another north-western town.
SOURCE: Agence France-Presse in Dhaka