A PROMINENT Bangladeshi-American blogger known for speaking out against religious extremism was hacked to death as he walked through Bangladesh’s capital with his wife, police have said.
The attack on Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born US citizen, happened on a busy street as he and his wife, Rafida Ahmed, were walking back from a book fair at Dhaka University. His wife, who is also a blogger, was seriously injured.
It was the latest in a series of attacks on secular writers in Bangladesh in recent years. A previously unknown militant group, Ansar Bangla 7, claimed responsibility, police said.
Mr Roy “was the target because of his crime against Islam,” Ansar Bangla 7 said on Twitter.
The blogger was a leading critic of religious intolerance. Family and friends said he had been threatened over his writings.
About 8:45pm on Thursday, a group of men ambushed the couple as they walked toward a roadside tea stall, with at least two of the attackers striking them with meat cleavers, according to police. The attackers then ran away, vanishing into the crowds. Two blood-stained cleavers were found after the attack, he said.
Islamist extremism has made few inroads in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people, but there have been a series of similar attacks in recent years blamed on Islamist militants.
A divide has become increasingly visible between secular bloggers and conservative Islamic groups, often covertly connected with Islamist parties, with the secularists urging authorities to ban religion-based politics and Islamists pressing for blasphemy laws to protect their faith. Islam is Bangladesh’s state religion but the country is governed by secular laws based on British common law and prime minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said she will not give in to religious extremism.
Bangladesh was formerly known as East Pakistan, and was a British colony until the partition of India in 1947. It achieved independence in 1971.
Mr Roy had founded a popular Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona, or Free Mind, which featured articles on scientific reasoning and religion.
The website has apparently been shut down since the attack, but Mr Roy defended atheism in a January posting on Facebook, calling it “a rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief”.
Mr Roy’s younger brother, Anujit, said the blogger had returned to Bangladesh earlier this month from the US and was planning to go back there later this month.
In 2013, another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, who also spoke out against religious extremism, was killed by still-unidentified assailants near his Dhaka home.