A Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger who had received frequent threats from Islamists was hacked to death on a Dhaka street Thursday night.
Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh used its Twitter account to claim responsibility for the murder of Avijit Roy before its account, Ansar Bangla 7, was taken down.
“The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” read one of the tweets.
Roy is a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Georgia and was in Bangladesh for a month, according to the Associated Press. He reportedly has a daughter currently attending school in the U.S. 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.
Roy’s 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.
He and his wife had just left a book fair when they were attacked. Roy was struck in the head and died on the operating table at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, Reporters Without Borders said.
“The measures so far taken have not led to the arrest and trial of the perpetrators and instigators of crimes of violence against journalists and bloggers. The police and judicial authorities need to focus on the right target,” Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk, said. “It is unacceptable for them to spend so much time searching news outlets, arresting journalists, censoring news and investigating bloggers, when the many attacks on bloggers are still unpunished.”
State Department press secretary Jen Psaki opened Friday’s briefing with the attack and said the administration “condemns in the strongest terms the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, which was horrific in its brutality and cowardice.”
“Avijit was a journalist, a humanist, a husband, and a friend, and we extend our condolences to his family and friends. He was taken from us in a shocking act of violence,” Psaki said. “This was not just an attack against a person, but a cowardly assault on the universal principles enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution and the country’s proud tradition of free intellectual and religious discourse.”
“…Clearly, we know his background, which was why I outlined it, but don’t have anything to ascribe in terms of a motive in this case.”
But Islamists targeting secularist bloggers is sadly nothing new in Bangladesh.
In 2013, they put out a call for bloggers deemed blasphemers to be murdered. In January 2013, blogger Asif Mohiuddin was stabbed by Islamists yet survived. On Feb. 15, 2013, Ahmed Rajib Haider, a blogger who also criticized Islamic fundamentalism, was hacked to death and no one was convicted in the attack.
Ansar al-Islam took credit for Haider’s slaying in a November Facebook post, and included Mohiuddin’s face on a hit list of future targets.
“We call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to leave no stone unturned in investigating and prosecuting the attack on Avijit Roy and Rafida Ahmed Bonna,” Committee to Protect Journalists Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said. “This attack is emblematic of the culture of impunity that pervades Bangladesh, where the lack of accountability in previous attacks on the press continues to spurn a deadly cycle of violence.”
Reporters Without Borders said 19 bloggers have been listed as targets on Islamist websites since the 2013 demonstrations.
Instead of going after the Islamists, the press-freedom group said, the Bangladeshi authorities began shutting down websites and arresting bloggers.