Homeland Security

USAID Worker and LGBT Editor Latest Victim in Islamist Assassinations

One of the latest victims in terrorists’ targeted assassination campaign on writers and intellectuals they see as enemies of Islam is, in the words of the State Department, “a beloved member of our embassy family” who was editor of Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine.

Xulhaz Mannan, 35, and Mahbub Tonoy, 25, were in their apartment in Dhaka on Monday at about 5:30 p.m. when attackers posing as delivery couriers gained entry.

A building security guard told the Dhaka Tribune that there were six assailants in their 20s. Three of them followed the guard as he went to Mannan’s apartment to ask if he was expecting a package. Mannan said he wasn’t and tried to shut the door, but the men hit the guard on the head and forced their way inside.

They attacked Mannan and Tonoy with machetes; the former’s mother and a maid were in different rooms inside the apartment, but by the time they came to see what was going on the attackers were on their way out, chanting “Allahu Akbar.”

Security guards of neighboring buildings tried to apprehend the terrorists but weren’t successful.

Mannan was an LGBT activist before going to work at the U.S. Embassy as a protocol officer. He later worked for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and founded the magazine Roopbaan, which was going to hold a Rainbow Rally earlier this month that was canceled due to death threats.

Tonoy was an LGBT activist and stage actor who had worked for the magazine over the past year.

The crime came just two days after an ISIS-claimed attack on a professor, Rezaul Karim Siddique, who was hacked to death while waiting for a bus in Rajshahi. “ISIS fighters assassinated a university professor for calling to atheism in the city of Rajshahi in Bangladesh,” said a statement from ISIS’ Amaq News Agency. It wasn’t clear what would have made them lash out at the English professor, who by accounts of those close to him wasn’t political or atheistic but simply active in cultural events and music.

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning Mannan’s “barbaric murder,” calling the victim “a trusted colleague, a beloved friend, and advocate for human rights and dignity in Bangladesh.”

“In many ways, he embodied the spirit of the people of Bangladesh and the pride with which they guard their traditions of tolerance, peace, and diversity,” Kerry said.

“We offer our full support to the government of Bangladesh as they investigate these murders and bring the perpetrators to justice. We remain committed to the principles that were so important to Xulhaz, and we promise to support all those who work on behalf of tolerance and human rights in Bangladesh and around the world.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom implored Kerry in January to admit to the United States some Bangladeshi bloggers at high risk of assassination by al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS. In December, a coalition of human rights groups warned that dozens of Bangladeshi writers — deemed blasphemers by Islamists for their secular works — were in “urgent danger” and in need of protection.

State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters Monday that such humanitarian parole is “still an option under consideration.”

“We think that this is a valuable tool that should be considered. It’s obviously up to DHS to make the finally determination, but it’s a door that we would like to see stay open,” Kirby said.

He said it was too soon to tell if Mannan had been killed for his work with the U.S. government. “What we do know is that he was a staunch defender of LGBT rights. That’s beyond dispute and that he was brutally, viciously murdered in his own home. That’s just atrocious and barbaric,” Kirby added. Asked if other locals working for the U.S. Embassy or agencies were being given any sort of protection, he replied, “To the degree that they work inside our post and embassies there, they enjoy the protection.”

AQIS took credit earlier this month for the murder of Nazimuddin Samad, 28, a law student at Jagannath University. His “crimes,” as the terror group later detailed, included an August 2013 Facebook post with “very obscene language” that “slandered our beloved prophet,” an April 2015 “parody of an ayah [verse] of the Holy Quran in the Facebook,” and an April 2015 “mock” of Allah on Facebook.

It was the sixth such assassination of a critic of Islam in Bangladesh since February 2015. That month, Avijit Roy, a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Georgia and was in Bangladesh for a month, was hacked to death on a Dhaka street. Roy ran a blog featuring atheist, humanist and nationalist writers.

After the professor’s murder on Saturday, AQIS tweeted congrats without claiming the attack. “O blasphemes! We will continue to kill you until you stop insulting our beloved prophet Muhammad (pbuh),” read the tweet.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the slayings of Mannan and Tonoy.

After Samad’s murder, AQIS issued an updated list of “who’s next” targeting guidelines. Along with “anyone insulting prophet Muhammad” or supporting the free-speech rights of those who do, “those who don’t allow others to follow the rulings of the Islamic Shariah,” including teachers, political leaders, judges, doctors, etc., are named as targets, as well as “those who intentionally misrepresent Islam in their writing or talks in order to take the Muslim community away from Islam which is one of the major agendas of the Crusaders,” including writers, “so-called intellectuals,” newspaper editors, actors, producers, poets and journalists.

“Those who oppose the Islamic Shariah by their talks or writings or show insolence towards it or insult it” are also named as targets, as are “those who are engaged in spreading nudity, obscenity and shamefulness in the Muslim society.”