Three arrested over the killing of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh

Three members of the banned hardline Islamic group Ansarullah Bangla Team were arrested and charged with killing Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das. 

A.M. Ahad/AP
Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion personnel, in black, stand behind three suspected members of banned Islamic militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team: Touhidur Rahman (l.), Sadek Ali (c.), and Aminul Mollick, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Bangladesh authorities have arrested three men, including a British citizen, for their involvement in the murders of two atheist bloggers.

The three suspects are Touhidur Rahman, an information technology expert who left the UK for Bangladesh in either 2011 or 2012; Aminul Mollick, a broker at a passport office; and Sadek Ali, who used to work at a printing press, the Associated Press reported.

The head of the battalion's media wing, Mufti Mahmud Khan, told reporters that Mr. Rahman was the mastermind behind the killings. He also said that Mr. Mulik helped members of the militant group make fake passports in case they wanted to flee the country while Mr. Ali was the communication bridge between the group and Mufti Jasim Rahmani, alleged head of the militant group.

All three were arrested Monday night in separate raids in Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

So far in 2015, four bloggers critical of fundamentalist religious beliefs have been killed in Bangladesh: Bangladeshi-American Avijit Roy in February, Washiqur Rahman in March, Ananta Bijoy Das in May and Niloy "Neel" Chakrabarti in August.

Maksudul Alam, a spokesman for Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion, said Tuesday that all three arrested suspects are members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team and were involved in the attacks on Mr. Roy and Mr. Das.

Mr. Rahmani is currently in jail awaiting trial in the murder of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013.

The hardline Islamic group Ansarullah Bangla Team is known to be behind all four attacks, say Bangladeshi officials. The militant group was banned in May following Mr. Das’s murder.

The Al Qaeda-inspired group has previously threatened and killed bloggers, writers, and other activists, The New York Times reported in May. In June, Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star reported that the group has issued death threats to 25 people in the country, including Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu.

The three suspects must "face trial and justice without delay," said Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association in a statement.

He also demanded the Bangladesh government "do more to protect all its citizens from brutal fundamentalist thugs who would kill another human being for daring to think outside the confines of dogmatic religion."

Bangladeshi police have not been idle. Besides the three men arrested on Monday, two other suspected members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team were arrested for murdering Mr. Chakrabarti, the BBC reported Friday. And in May, Farabi Shafiur Rahman, a fundamentalist blogger, was detained in connection with the murder of Mr. Roy.

Bangladesh is officially secular, but more than 90 percent of its 160 million people are Muslim, and critics say the government turns a blind eye to crimes committed by Muslim extremists against atheists, reports the BBC.

All four slain bloggers had received threats from the extremists. Three months before his death, Chakrabarti told The Guardian that he had requested police protection, but that officers ignored the threats.

Brad Adams, Asia director at the Human Rights Watch, has criticized Bangladesh for its treatment of atheist and secular bloggers.

"When the authorities jail atheist or secular bloggers for nothing more than expressing their opinion about religion, it suggests that the government agrees with radicals who are butchering people on Bangladesh’s streets," he said in May, after the first of the four murders.

"This sends the wrong signal to society, which should be hearing from the government that it stands with those expressing peaceful opinions.”

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