Bangladesh police Sunday arrested a Islamic militant from a banned terror group over the hacking to death of the country’s first gay magazine editor and his friend amidst a string of brutal murders of secular bloggers, writers and minorities in the Muslim-majority nation.
Xulhaz Mannan, 35, editor of a magazine for Bangladesh’s gay and lesbian community, and a 25-year-old fellow activist Mahbub Tonoy were hacked to death in an apartment on April 25 by up to seven attackers carrying machetes and guns.
The 37-year-old suspect, Shariful Islam alias Shihab, was arrested from Kushtia early Sunday.
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“He is a member of the banned Ansarullah Bangla Team,” Monirul Islam, chief of counter-terrorism unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) told reporters at a press conference.
During initial interrogation, Shihab confessed that he had been a member of another banned Islamist outfit Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami, Bangladesh (Huji) before he joined Ansarullah Bangla Team, Islam said.
The killers were well trained and they had planned the killing two months ago, he said while describing the arrest as a “breakthrough” in the high-profile case.
“They killed the gay rights activists because they were creating confusion about Islam,” Islam said.
He was produced before the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Kaisarul Islam, which placed him on three-day remand this afternoon. Detectives sought a ten-day remand for him.
Police said Shihab owned one of two guns that were used in the twin murders.
Police seized four mobile phone sets, a tab and a USB flash drive from his possession, Islam said.
“Shihab has been hiding in Khulna since the killing,” Detective Branch Deputy Commissioner Mashrukur Rahman Khaled.
On the evening of April 25, assailants barged into the apartment of Xulhaz Mannan, a programme officer with the USAID and an editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine.
Xulhaz and his theatre activist friend Tonoy were hacked with meat cleavers on their head and neck, which forensic experts said was to ensure instant death.
Militant outfit ‘Ansar Al Islam’, which claims to be the Bangladesh affiliate of al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for the killings as well as six other previous killings of bloggers-online activists and the publisher.
Witnesses said five to seven people, clad in T-shirts and jeans, were involved in the killings and fled the scene after firing from guns, shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’.
The attackers also injured a security guard of the building. A patrol police officer was also injured while trying to stop the attackers.
The police officer, however, managed to snatch a bag from one of the assailants, inside which two firearms, ammunitions and a mobile phone were found.
Xulhaz’s family filed a case over the murders against the unidentified men while police initiated another case over the attack on one of its men and the seizure of firearms.
The United States had condemned the killings of Tonoy and Mannan, who worked for US government aid organisation USAID.
There have been systematic assaults in Bangladesh in recent weeks especially targeting minorities, secular bloggers, intellectuals and foreigners.
In the latest attack, a 70-year-old Buddhist monk was hacked to death yesterday inside a remote monastery in Bangladesh, with police saying the incident bore the hallmark of previous killings of secular bloggers and minorities by Islamists.
A liberal professor was brutally hacked to death last month by machete-wielding ISIS militants who slit his throat near his home in Rajshahi city.
On April 30, a Hindu tailor was also hacked to death by machete-wielding ISIS militants in his shop.
The ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Indian Peninsula have claimed responsibility for some of the attacks although the government denies their presence in Bangladesh.