DHAKA, Bangladesh (Christian Examiner) – For the third time this year a blogger who advocated secularism and challenged Islamic extremism in Bangladesh has been killed.
Ananta Bijoy Das, a 33-year-old editor of a science magazine and contributor to the Mukto-Mona [Free Thinker] blog, was attacked on the street May 12 by four masked men armed with machetes as he walked to his daytime job at a bank.
Kamrul Hasan, commissioner of the Sylhet police, told Agence France-Presse the four attackers "chased him down the street and first attacked his head with their machetes, and then attacked him all over his body." Das was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A group calling itself Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh claimed responsibility for the attack, but little is known about the group. In a posting on the social media site "justpaste.it", Ansar al-Islam claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and posted a picture of a corpse, covered by a bloody sheet in a hospital morgue. The moniker under the photo said, "We do not forget."
The group also promised another "target" would soon die, "God willing."
Das's death comes after American-Bangladeshi blogger Avijit Roy, who was critical of Islamic extremism and organized religion, was killed in a similar attack at a book fair in Dhaka in February. In March, Washiqur Rahman, an associate of Roy, was also hacked to death. Police arrested two young men, both students at a Madrassa or Islamic school, for involvement in that attack.
The website Mukto-Mona was also created by Roy, according to a news release by Reporters Without Borders that also said Das wrote for the quarterly Jukti (Logic) and headed the Council for Science and Reason.
According to the Wall Street Journal, students of the country's Madrassas formed an organization called Hefazat-e-Islam in March 2013.
The group staged protests, 500,000 strong, calling for the most populous democratically-run Muslim country in the world to get in line with other Muslim nations and pass a strict "blasphemy law" to stop bloggers from insulting Islam or being critical of Muhammad, the religion's founder. They also called for the government to cease educating women.
Both of the demands are planks in the platform of radical Islamists. Fifty people reportedly died in the demonstrations.
Tensions since have been on the rise between secularists and students pushing for a radical Islamic agenda. Now, the death of a third blogger this year has many in the country fearing that Bangladesh's youth are tilting towards radicalism en masse.
Rajat Kanti Gupta, a friend of Avijit Roy, told the newspaper that secularists were "losing bloggers one after another. If the earlier murders had been properly dealt with, this wouldn't have happened."
A police official in Dhaka said the targeted killing of writers is a "serious concern," but he added that little could be done until police receive more resources to address the attacks. The official said police were doing all they could to protect bloggers.
But Imran Sarker, who leads an association of bloggers in Bangladesh, of which Das was member, told UK's Guardian newspaper that, in fact, nothing is being done.
"They should not stay in power if they are not able to bring the perpetrators to justice," Sarker said. "One after another incident is happening and they are not able to do anything."
Reporters without Borders program director Lucie Morillon said Das had been getting threats from Islamic extrmists for months in connection with his blog posts.
"What are the authorities waiting for to find and punish those responsible? Freedom of information and thought seems exposed to a growing danger," Morillon said in the release. "It is vital to protect Bangladesh's free-thinkers and not yield to impunity."
If Ansar al-Islam is an al-Qaeda affiliate, the spate of attacks on bloggers would represent the larger terror group's first real push into Bangladesh since Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took control of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden's death, founded al-Qaeda on the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) in 2014.
The connection between the AQIS and Ansar al-Islam seems likely, given the group is named after a defunct al-Qaeda terror affiliate in Iraq.
Ansar al-Islam was first founded in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2001 by known al-Qaeda affiliate Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i. He was trained by the Taliban in Afghanistan and led Ansar al-Islam to pledge loyalty to Osama bin Laden's terror network. In 2014, the majority of the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was absorbed into its operations. Others, still loyal to al-Qaeda, presumably left Iraq and spread out over the other parts of Asia.