Homeland Security

U.S. Names al-Qaeda Chapter a Terrorist Organization 16 Months After American's Murder

Bangladeshi policemen investigate the site where American blogger Avijit Roy was killed in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government today designated as a foreign terrorist organization an al-Qaeda chapter that hacked to death an American citizen nearly a year and a half ago.

Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, which formally launched in 2014 after al-Qaeda meticulously brought various militant groups from India to Bangladesh and Myanmar under its umbrella, has explicitly detailed why they’ve picked certain writers and activists as assassination targets — those they believe have insulted Islam and stand in the way of submission to Shariah law.

The State Department’s new FTO designation blocks people from “knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to the organization.”

“Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that AQIS and [leader Asim] Umar are actively engaged in terrorism,” the notice said. “Designations of terrorist individuals and groups expose and isolate organizations and individuals, and result in denial of access to the U.S. financial system.”

In February 2015, Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death on a Dhaka street. “The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh tweeted afterward.

Roy was a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Atlanta and was in Bangladesh for a month. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was with him at the time of the attack and was severely wounded, with one of her fingers severed by the pair of machete-wielding attackers.

His blog in the 90 percent Muslim country, mukto-mona.com, translates to “free thinking” and featured atheist, humanist and nationalist writers. He was also an author whose books included The Philosophy of Disbelief and The Virus of Faith — further stoking outrage of Islamists.

AQIS last took credit for the April attack on a USAID worker and his associate in Dhaka.

Xulhaz Mannan, 35, who previously worked for the U.S. Embassy as a protocol officer and also founded the country’s only LGBT magazine, and Mahbub Tonoy, 25, a magazine contributor, were killed when attackers posing as delivery couriers gained entry to Mannan’s building. They were attacked with machetes by men in their 20s who yelled “Allahu Akbar” on their way out the door.

AQIS has slain several people in Bangladesh with their assassination gangs — following a wide criteria for the selection of targets. ISIS has tried to emulate their attacks, with AQIS criticizing as un-Islamic their choices of targets such as a police superintendent’s wife.

In April, AQIS murdered 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.

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.”

AQIS runs social media accounts — which go untouched by censors for many months at a time as sites such as Twitter try to keep up with suspending ISIS accounts — and a WordPress blog.

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

PEN America said in May that it has had “ongoing dialogue” with the State Department on the request. “As the spate of deadly attacks by Islamic hardliners against secular intellectuals there has escalated with near impunity, rights groups are seeking new avenues to accelerate international pressure and assistance to put an end to the violence.”