Bangladesh police yesterday launched a deadly crackdown on Islamist militants as a 70-year-old Hindu priest became the latest victim in a series of gruesome killings by suspected Muslim militants.
As a government minister tried to portray the recent attacks as part of a conspiracy involving Israel’s Mossad spy agency, security forces waged deadly gun battles with members of a homegrown extremist group.
Two “high-ranking” members of the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh were shot dead in a battle in Dhaka and another was killed in a northwestern district, police said.
The two extremists killed in the capital had roles “in most of the recent attacks” including the bombing of a Shiite mosque and the murder of a liberal professor, deputy commissioner of police M.R. Khaled said.
The third victim was killed in another gunfight in the town of Godagari in the northwestern district of Rajshahi, local police chief Abu Forhad said.
Bangladeshi authorities have been coming under mounting international pressure to end the string of attacks on religious minorities and secular activists that have left more than 40 people dead in the past three years.
Authorities have blamed homegrown Muslim extremists for the attacks, which have surged in recent weeks, rejecting claims of responsibility from the Islamic State group and a South Asian branch of al-Qaeda.
The latest victim was a 70-year-old Hindu priest whose head was nearly severed.
Farmers discovered the body of Ananda Gopal Ganguly near his home in the village of Noldanga in the western district of Jhenidah after he had gone missing on his way to morning prayers.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, investigators said the killing bore the hallmarks of recent attacks by Muslim extremists who have carried out 10 other similar killings in the past 10 weeks.
“He left home this morning saying that he was going to a Hindu house to offer prayers,” the district’s deputy police chief Gopinath Kanjilal told reporters. “Later, farmers found his near-decapitated body in a rice field.”
“We do not know the identity of the killers. His body was found in an isolated area and we do not believe there were any witnesses to the killing, but the pattern of the killing is similar to ones carried out by local Muslim militants in recent times,” Kanjilal added.
Although most of the recent attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State group or the local offshoot of al-Qaeda, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has blamed its domestic opponents for the attacks.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Bangladeshi Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan again linked the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party to the attacks, saying they were part of a wider conspiracy that also involved Mossad.
“These killings are part of a national and international conspiracy. Those who are carrying out these incidents are communicating with Mossad,” Khan told reporters.
A senior Bangladesh Nationalist Party official was charged with sedition last month for allegedly plotting against the state when he met an Israeli government adviser.
Aslam Chowdhury, a joint secretary of the party, was arrested after local media reported he had met the adviser, Mendi Safadi, in India in March.
Experts say a government ban on Bangladesh’s largest Muslim militant political group, Jamaat-e-Islami, following a protracted political crisis has pushed many towards extremism.
Jamaat is a traditional ally of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party whose leader, former Bangladeshi prime minister Khaleda Zia, is facing a series of charges in connection with deadly firebombings.
Victims of recent murders by suspected extremist groups have included secular bloggers, gay rights activists and followers of minority religions.
Although it is officially secular, about 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million population is Muslim.
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