Militants attacked police protecting worshippers at a celebration marking the end Ramadan in Kishoreganj, Bangladesh, on Thursday, killing three and wounding 14. The attack comes on the heels of last week's hostage-taking in the capital, Dhaka, which was claimed by the Islamic State and killed 20 people, intensifying a trend of extremist attacks in a country more typically known for religious tolerance and moderation.
Around 300,000 people where in attendance at the Eid al-Fitr festival in the Kishoreganj, 90 miles from Dhaka, when five militants attacked with bombs and "sharp weapons," local authorities said. They killed two policeman and a woman in attendance at the festival, before two of the militants were killed and three were arrested.
The attackers' affiliation was not immediately clear. However, the self-proclaimed Islamic State militant group, whose activity the Bangladeshi government has been reluctant to acknowledge inside its borders, has threatened more violence in recent days.
Attacks by militants claiming association with both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are becoming more common in Bangladesh. Along with the attacks in Dhaka, both groups have been targeting individuals who they see as promoting messages counter to their own, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in April, after militants killed a Bangledeshi gay rights activist and a university professor fond of music, which the group often denounces.
Despite being known as a tolerant country, extremism is becoming more common in Bangladesh, Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center in Washington, told the Monitor.
"We've always thought of Bangladesh as an example of a Muslim country with a functioning democracy, where women participate in governance, and the full range of political and human rights are broadly respected and freedoms are expressed," she said. "But now we see the threats to that foundation clearly growing as Islamist extremists try to change the orientation of Bangladeshi society and try to Islamicize the complexion of the country."
It's unclear if Thursday's attackers were affiliated with Al Qaeda or IS, or were homegrown. Both groups have been active in the country in recent years, pushing their belief that Bangledeshi Muslims should accept sharia law.
"Certainly it does seem there is some kind of competition going on among these local groups that are claiming allegiance to Al Qaeda or ISIS," Ms. Curtis told the Monitor. "Whether the international organizations are directly supporting the local groups somehow on the ground remains a question, but clearly the local groups are trying to associate themselves with the internationally known organizations to enhance their reputation and image."
Bangladesh's government, however, says the most recent attack was carried out by domestic fighters, not orchestrated from abroad.
"It is a totally political move. They are out to destabilize the government. It is a political attack to oust and topple the secular government of Sheikh Hasina," Hasanul Haq Inu, the head of Bangladesh's information ministry, told an Indian broadcaster, according to the Associated Press.
Attackers' "aim is not to establish Islamic ideology but to tarnish the image of the government and the country," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Reuters. "We will face them with all our might."
The past week's attacks come at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which, this year, has seen a series of extremist attacks, including in Turkey, Iraq, and Bangladesh. Across the world, the past few weeks' violence has highlighted IS' main target: other Muslims.
Such attacks "deliver a clear message of intimidation to fellow Muslims," as Taylor Luck reported for the Monitor earlier this week:
They are part of a growing campaign to silence leading Islamic voices who challenge the group’s narrow, apocalyptic interpretation of Islam.
The car bombs, raids, and suicide attacks have come at the close of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month, and have included a strike on one of Islam’s holiest sites, the mosque holding the prophet Muhammad’s tomb in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
It is a stark reminder that, in the self-declared Islamic State’s efforts to establish a caliphate, it is rival Muslims – who fail to join their jihad – who are a much greater enemy than non-Muslim "infidels."
In Bangladesh, the violence has also concerned businessmen, especially those in the country's large garment export business that makes $26 billion a year.
"This is very shocking. We are anxious. It is creating an image crisis. Customers are worried," Muhammad Saiful Hoque, who works for a garment exporter in Dhaka, told Reuters. "I fear clients will be reluctant to come for a while. Every incident is adding to that."
This report includes material from Reuters and the Associated Press.