(RNS) The killings of two Hindus, one Christian and the wife of an anti-terror official in Muslim-majority Bangladesh last week have left members of minority religious communities afraid for their lives and skeptical of the government’s ability to provide security.
Separate targeted attacks on Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and atheists have left the country reeling. On top of the violence, some churches have received death threats from Islamist militants.
“The Islamists said that Bangladesh would be ruled only by Shariah law,” said William Proloy Samadder, secretary of the Bangladesh Christian Association. “We all are really frightened.”
Islamist groups have for years agitated over issues that allegedly threaten their hegemony despite the fact that 90 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million residents are Muslim.
The recent wave of religious intolerance began in 2013 when militants brutally killed an atheist blogger.
More recently, the victims have included foreigners, Shiites, liberal Muslims and members of other religious minorities.
In all, 48 killings over the past 18 months have been blamed on Islamist militants. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility of more than half of the killings, including last week’s hacking to death of a Hindu priest, a Hindu monastery worker and a Christian grocer. Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for most of the rest, according to the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group.
The government insists that neither the Islamic State nor al-Qaida has a foothold in Bangladesh and that homegrown militants are behind the killings.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Home Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the militant groups were backed by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami. But the two parties rejected the allegations and said the government is framing them in the terror charges to weaken the opposition.
This week the national police chief of Bangladesh said banned Islamist outfits Ansarullah Bangla Team and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh were behind the targeted killings.
Last week, Bangladesh began a nationwide crackdown, arresting 8,000 people, including at least 119 suspected Islamist radicals.
Hasina said that none of the criminals involved in the slayings will escape punishment.
“Bangladesh is a small country. Where will the killers hide? Hasina asked. “Our forces will hunt them out and bring them to justice.Those who are sponsoring these ghastly attacks will also not be spared. Violence against the minorities and others will be curbed.”
But many minority leaders in Bangladesh said they are losing hope.
“The sudden acceleration in the murderous attacks shows that the killers are taking advantage of the situation of impunity prevailing in the country,” said Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council. “The pattern of machete attacks show the killers are among those Islamists who want to cleanse the country of all non-Muslims and even liberal Muslims. The government has clearly failed to provide security to the minorities. The situation is alarming.”
Nirmol Rozario, secretary general of Bangladesh Christian Association, said that it seems difficult for the authorities to stop the killings if the militants keep targeting civilians across the country.
“One is vulnerable to a killer attack just because he is Hindu, Christian or Buddhist,” he said. “It is nearly impossible for police to provide security to all these vulnerable minority community members. For now, the militants, it seems, will be able to keep killing at will.”
(Akhtar Ali is a correspondent based in New Delhi, India)