Dhaka: Touhidur Rahman, 58, a Bangladeshi-born British citizen, was arrested for the alleged murders of two secular bloggers in the country, police said. Rahman was arrested by security forces with two other alleged members of Ansarullah Bangla, a banned group linked to al-Qaeda.
Four bloggers have been murdered by suspected Islamic extremists in Bangladesh this year. Rahman is accused of masterminding the murders of Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American writer, and Ananta Bijoy Das. Major Maksudul Alam, of Bangladesh’s counterterrorism unit, said: “We can confirm that Rahman is a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin. He is the main planner of the attacks on Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das.”
The killings have caused outrage, with the Bangladeshi government and security forces under fire for failing to protect secular activists or stamp out the rising Islamist threat. Roy was hacked to death by masked men as he and his wife returned home from a book fair in the capital, Dhaka, in February. His wife, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, who was injured in the attack, claimed later that police officers had witnessed the murder but did not act. Das was killed in a similar attack in May on his way to work.
Both men were prominent activists and writers for Mukto-Mona (Free thinkers), a website that champions freedom of expression and vocally opposes Islamic fundamentalism, making it a target for Islamist groups. Intimidation has spilt into violence since 2013, when Islamists demanded a blasphemy law. Bangladesh is officially secular, but the government has been accused of ignoring the murders for fear of provoking Islamist groups.
Police responded to the murder two weeks ago of Niladri Chatterjee by urging bloggers not to “cross the limit” by offending religious beliefs. Ansarullah Bangla claimed responsibility for the murders of Roy and Das. Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladesh chapter of al-Qaeda, claimed others.