Bangladeshi clerics condemn killings

They issue fatwa against attacks on minorities, secular activists

DHAKA • Bangladeshi clerics said they have issued a fatwa against the killings of minorities and secular campaigners in the mainly Muslim country, where police have arrested more than 10,000 people in a crackdown on militancy.

Nearly 50 people have been killed over the last three years in a wave of gruesome attacks targeting Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims and campaigners in the country. Many were hacked to death with machetes.

Mr Farid Uddin Masuod, head of the Council of Bangladesh Clerics, said more than 100,000 clerics signed the fatwa, or religious edict, which will be made public on Saturday. "The fatwa unequivocally said these killings of non-Muslims, minorities and secular activists are forbidden in Islam," he told Agence France-Presse. "We've said these killings are illegal and are crimes against humanity."

The announcement came as police said they had detained 3,115 people on the fourth day of a nationwide anti-militant drive, taking the total number to 11,307.

The Bangladeshi authorities had faced criticism for failing to tackle the violence, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed at the weekend to catch "each and every killer".

She has accused the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist party ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, of orchestrating the killings to destabilise the nation.

But the BNP, which said 2,100 of its activists have been arrested, is accusing the government of using the crackdown to suppress political dissent. Most of those arrested are wanted for criminal offences unconnected with militancy.

Deputy inspector-general of Bangladesh police A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman told Agence France-Presse that just 145 of those arrested were members of Islamist militant groups.

But Mr Masuod said the police crackdown was important, and the fatwa would discredit any Islamist group that tries to defend the killings. "The fatwa clearly says these killings are not a just part of jihad, but mere acts of terrorism," he said.

Last week, an elderly Hindu priest was found nearly decapitated in a field and a Hindu monastery worker hacked to death, while a Christian grocer was murdered near a church. Other victims included activists and secular bloggers, along with two foreigners and two gay rights activists.

The authorities reject claims of responsibility by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and a South Asian branch of Al-Qaeda, saying they have no presence in the country. Instead, they blame two home-grown Islamist militant groups for the murders.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2016, with the headline 'Bangladeshi clerics condemn killings'. Print Edition | Subscribe