Bangladesh arrests Islamists over Hindu priest slaying

Bangladeshi relatives of a top Hindu priest react after he was killed in the remote northern district of Panchagarh on Feb 21, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh police have arrested three local Islamists over the decapitation of a top Hindu priest, the latest attack targeting religious minorities in the Muslim-majority nation, officers said Monday (Feb 22).

The Islamic State (ISIS) group has claimed responsibility for the attack inside the temple complex on Sunday in the country's north, but local police said there was no evidence to suggest the militant group was involved.

"We've arrested three people for interrogation," said Babul Akhter, police chief of Debiganj area where the attack happened.

Two members of banned militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and an activist with Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's largest Islamist political party, were arrested overnight Sunday. Police did not give details of their alleged involvement in the attack.

"The ISIS group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks on minorities. But we haven't found any evidence confirming their link. Rather we have found JMB was behind these killings," Akhter said.

Two unknown men armed with pistols and cleavers attacked Jogeswar Roy as he was arranging prayers at the temple in Debiganj town, some 400 kilometres north of the capital Dhaka, police have said.

Two devotees were also wounded in the attack, including one who was shot as he tried to save the priest, they have said.

US-based monitoring organisation SITE has reported that the IS group said in a statement it is behind the murder.

Bangladesh has seen an upsurge in attacks on minorities including Shi'ites, Sufis, Christians and Ahmadis by Islamist militant groups.

The government rejects the ISIS group's claims of responsibility for several of the attacks, including the shootings of two foreigners last year.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government instead accuses the JMB, other local militant groups as well as the Islamist-allied political opposition of trying to destabilise the country.

A long-running political crisis has radicalised opponents of the government and analysts say Islamist extremists pose a growing danger.

Hindus, the country's largest minority, make up nearly 10 per cent of Bangladesh's 160 million people.

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