Killing of senior officer's wife brutal turning point

By Max Bearak

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, seen with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has asserted her commitment to secular values. Photo / AP
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina, seen with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has asserted her commitment to secular values. Photo / AP

The circle of targets for Bangladeshi extremists keeps widening.

Up until last year, their gruesome attacks seemed focused on secular bloggers who had spoken out against Islam. Recently, however, numerous academics, publishers, activists, foreign workers and non-Muslims have been hacked or fatally shot for allegedly insulting Islam.

The police have clearly struggled to stem the wave of violence. Today, suspected extremists killed Mahmuda Khanam Mitu, 30, the wife of the police superintendent in Bangladesh's second-biggest city.

She was stabbed nine times and shot in the head while walking her son to his school bus stop. At least three assailants escaped on a motorbike. Mitu is the first woman to be killed by extremists in the same fashion as the other recent attacks.

Her husband, Babul Akter, was recently promoted to his new role after leading a slew of raids against banned Islamist extremist groups, such as Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh.

Police officials told AP that they couldn't rule out that members of any of the groups Akter had fought against had carried out the killing.

Also, a 60-year-old Christian man, identified as Sunil Gomes, was hacked to death at a shop he owned in Natore, in the north of the country. The news agency of Isis, Amaq, asserted that the group was responsible for his death. Isis (Islamic State) has claimed at least two other killings.

Bangladesh has been shaken by increasing religious tension as extremist groups gain sway. Besides the spate of attacks on individuals, extremist groups have bombed Shia shrines in a characteristic attempt to foment sectarian violence.

A debate over whether Bangladesh should have a secular or Islamic government has defined the country's politics since its birth after an independence war against Pakistan in 1971. The Government is secular and has spearheaded controversial prosecutions of Islamist figures for war crimes during the 1971 war, enraging many of the country's fundamentalists.

But although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asserted her commitment to secular values, she has been hesitant to speak out in support of the secular and atheist bloggers killed or injured in attacks.

In an interview with Time in 2015, she said, "Personally, I don't support it, I don't accept it. Why not? You have to have your faith. If anybody thinks they have no religion, okay, it's their personal view. ... But they have no right to write or speak against any religion."

- Washington Post

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