DHAKA, April 26, (Agencies): A group affiliated to al-Qaeda claimed responsibility on Tuesday for killing a Bangladeshi gay rights campaigner and his friend, the latest in a string of murders of liberal activists and other minorities in the South Asian nation. The slaying of Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s first magazine for gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, has deeply shocked Bangladesh’s embattled community of freethinking intellectuals.
Mannan, 35, was hacked to death on Monday in his apartment in the capital Dhaka by a group of assailants posing as couriers. His friend, actor Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, 25, was killed in the same attack, according to police. Islamist militants have targeted atheist bloggers, academics, religious minorities and foreign aid workers in a series of killings that dates back to February 2015 and has claimed at least 17 lives.
But the death of Mannan, who published gay rights journal Roopbaan and also worked for US aid agency USAID, has caused particular alarm because his links to a powerful Western government offered no guarantee of safety. “There’s a complete state of shock. People are really scared,” said one security analyst who knew Mannan personally and asked not to be named for reasons of safety. The person said that the killing could “precipitate” moves abroad by those who feel the risks of staying in Bangladesh are too great.
Homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people where sexual minorities are more marginalised than in neighbouring India. A 2014 survey carried out by Roopbaan found that 54 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals suffered constant fear that others would find out their sexual orientation. Just over half of the 600 respondents said that they were mentally stressed, leading to depression, suicidal tendencies and self-hatred. Roopbaan had no official permission to publish in Bangladesh. It was not available on news stands and appeared only sporadically.
Sold “It was a publication mainly for the community and was not sold for outsiders,” said one supporter of the group. Another gay rights activist added: “We don’t know when the next edition will be published — all of us are saddened and devastated.” International human rights groups say a climate of intolerance in Bangladeshi politics has both motivated and provided cover for perpetrators of crimes of religious hatred.
A Twitter handle identifying itself as an outlet of Ansar Al Islam said on Tuesday that its fighters had killed Mannan and Tonoy, denouncing them as “the pioneers of practicing (sic) and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh.” Ansar Al Islam, which is part of al- Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, has issued similar claims in the past, but its authenticity could not immediately be verified. Meanwhile, hours after Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused one group of religious radicals of killing a gay rights activist and his friend on Monday night, a different group took responsibility for the attack. These are the main Islamic political parties and radical groups the country:
JAMAAT-E-ISLAMI PARTY: Jamaat-e-Islami is Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party and is a partner of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the archrival of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Hasina has accused the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-islami of orchestrating the violent attacks to create chaos in the country, an allegation the opposition denies. Jamaat-e-Islami advocates the introduction of Shariah, or Islamic laws.
ANSARULLAH BANGLA TEAM: The Ansarullah Bangla Team — also operating under the names Ansar al-Islam and Ansar Bangla 7 — is the Bangladeshi affiliate of al-Qaeda on the Indian subcontinent, or AQIS. Now banned in Bangladesh, the group claimed responsibility for the killings of four secular bloggers last year, as well as the killing Monday night of two men including a gay rights activist who worked for the US Agency for International Development.
JUMATUL MUJAHEDEEN BANGLADESH: The group was founded in 1998 by Shaikh Abdur Rahman, a religious teacher educated in Saudi Arabia. It came to notice in 2001 when it engaged in conflict with an extremist communist group in Dinajpur in northern Bangladesh. On Aug 17, 2005, it exploded about 500 homemade bombs at nearly 300 locations almost simultaneously across the country as part of a campaign demanding the introduction of Shariah law. Later it continued its violent campaign by attacking and killing judges and police, and threatening journalists and women without veils.