DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife)– Islamic militants have claimed responsibility for the murder of a Christian grocer who was hacked to death Sunday, June 5, after Sunday prayers near a church in northwest Bangladesh. The Islamic State (IS) group said the attack was “part of a series of operations” targeting Christians and other religious minorities in the impoverished Asian nation.
Police said attackers murdered 65-year-old Sunil Gomes in the village of Bonpara, home to one of the oldest Christian communities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. “Sunil Gomes was hacked to death at his grocery store just near a church at Bonpara village,” said Shafiqul Islam, deputy police chief of Natore district that includes Bonpara.
IS claimed responsibility for the murder through its Amaq news agency, according to the SITE monitoring group. The killing came just hours after the wife of a top anti-terror officer was reportedly murdered in the southeastern city of Chittagong by suspected members of a banned local extremist group.
Bangladesh is reeling from a wave of murders of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities that have left more than 40 people dead in the last three years, reported French news agency AFP.
Authorities have blamed homegrown Islamists for the attacks, which have spiked in recent weeks, rejecting claims of responsibility from IS and a South Asia branch of Al-Qaeda.
Bangladesh’s secular government accuses political rivals including the largest Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami of trying to destabilize the country. Experts say a government crackdown on opponents, including a ban on Jamaat following a protracted political crisis, has pushed many towards extremism.
An investigating officer, Inspector Abdur Razzak, said the motive for the latest killing was unclear, but it was similar to those of Hindus and members of other religious minorities in recent months. However Christians in Bangladesh have faced growing extremism, BosNewsLife learned.
An Italian-born Catholic priest was shot and critically injured in the north last year — an attack later claimed by IS. Unknown attackers also tried to slit the throat of a pastor in another northwestern town.
In March, BosNewsLife reported that a young Christian evangelist says he has fled Bangladesh after Islamic militants threatened to kill him for converting to Christianity. Mark Huda Junayed Fino, 23, confirmed to BosNewsLife that he is outside the country and studying at a Bible college in a somewhat more “safe Asian nation”, though security concerns remain.
Bikash Hubert Rebeiro, from the Bonpara Catholic church, told reporters that the murdered Gomes, whose brother is a priest, used to work as a gardener at the church and was “known for his humility”. “He attended Sunday prayers at my church and then went to his grocery store. The next thing we know he was hacked to death. I can’t imagine how anyone can kill such an innocent man,” Rebeiro told media.
Hours before Gomes was killed, three unidentified men stabbed and then shot Mahmuda Begum in the head as she walked her son to a school bus stop near her home, said Chittagong deputy police commissioner Moktar Hossain, AFP reported.
Begum was the wife of Babul Akter, who led several high-profile operations against the banned Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militant group in Chittagong in recent months. Police linked the attaxck to Islamic militants who were angry that Akter led successful anti-militant raids in Chittagong in which several JMB men were detained.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the attack was revenge for Akter’s role in tracking down militants. At least 10 people have reportedly been killed by suspected Islamist militants in the last ten weeks alone.
Besides Christians, other religious groups have been targeted. A Hindu trader was reportedly hacked to death last week, days after a homoeopathic doctor was slaughtered along with a Buddhist monk. IS on Sunday also claimed responsibility for the monk’s murder, with Amaq saying its fighters slaughtered him at a Buddhist temple in the remote southeast.
The group had previously claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu trader.