A Hindu temple worker was hacked to death in western Bangladesh on Friday, police said, the latest in a series of attacks on religious minorities by suspected Islamists.
Shyamananda Das, who helped conduct prayers at the Radhamadan Gopal Bigraha Math in Jhenaidah district, was killed by three men on a motorcycle as he was walking on a highway adjacent to his temple early in the morning, police said. “They hacked him on his neck three times and there was one stabbing mark in his head,” said deputy police chief of the district Gopinath Kanjilal. “He died after he was brought to a hospital.”
Kanjilal said Das, also known as Babaji, was “a priest” in the temple. But local police chief inspector Hasan Hafizur Rahman said the 50-year-old man was “a temple volunteer who helps conduct prayers.”
“He was an itinerant temple volunteer who travels from one temple to another to serve the Hindu devotees. He came to this temple only yesterday,” he said. “He was attacked as he walked outside the temple to collect flowers for prayer services,” he added.
Police said no group claimed responsibility for the attack, but it bore hallmarks of recent murders of religious minorities by suspected homegrown Islamist militants. “The pattern of the killing is similar” to ones carried out by local Islamist militants, Rahman said.
Last month a Hindu priest, 70-year-old Ananda Gopal Ganguly, was also hacked to death in a rice paddy field in the same district near his home. Deputy police chief Kanjilal said a student activist from the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, has been arrested over the attack and he had allegedly admitted his role in the killing.
Bangladesh is reeling from a wave of murders of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities that have left some 50 people dead in the last three years. Victims of the attacks by suspected Islamists have included secular bloggers, gay rights activists and followers of minority religions including Hindus, Christians and Muslim Sufis and Shias.
Since April more than a dozen people were hacked to death amid a sharp spike in the targeted killings. Most of the recent attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State organization or the local offshoot of Al Qaeda. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has however blamed homegrown Islamists for the attacks, rejecting claims of responsibility from both organizations.
Experts say a government crackdown on opponents, including a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami following a protracted political crisis, has pushed many toward extremism. Jamaat-e-Islami is a traditional ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party whose leader, two-time former prime minister Khaleda Zia, is facing a raft of charges in connection with deadly fire-bombings.
Although Bangladesh is officially secular, around 90 percent of the country’s 160 million-strong population is Muslim and about one in 10 are Hindu.