Bangladesh beefs up security for foreigners after 2nd ISIS-claimed killing; PM denies ISIS link

Bangladeshi police officials stand guard at the site where a Japanese citizen was shot dead by attackers in Rangpur, on Oct 3, 2015.
Bangladeshi police officials stand guard at the site where a Japanese citizen was shot dead by attackers in Rangpur, on Oct 3, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (REUTERS) - Bangladesh stepped up security for foreign diplomats and citizens on Sunday (Oct 4) after the killing of two foreigners within a week in attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has vowed similar further assaults in the Muslim-majority nation.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday dismissed ISIS' claim to have killed the foreigners, saying police still had no evidence to confirm the militant group was behind the murders.

"We have still not found any involvement (of ISIS). We have to investigate," Ms Hasina told reporters.

"We've got no clues. If someone claims responsibility, why should we have to accept it?" she added. "Until we find out the link through investigation, I don't think there is any reason for us to accept it."

Japanese citizen Kunio Hoshi, 65, was gunned down on Saturday by three masked men on a motorcycle while on his way to visit a grass farm project in the northern district of Rangpur, an attack similar to Tuesday's shooting of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella.

"Extra forces have been deployed at foreign diplomats and citizens' homes and workplaces across the country," Mr Muntasirul Islam, a deputy commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told Reuters.

Attacks on foreigners are rare in Bangladesh. But the country has been convulsed by a rising tide of Islamist violence over the past year in which four online critics of religious militancy were hacked to death, a United States citizen among them.

Police have not confirmed that ISIS, which has ambitions to spread into South Asia, is behind the two attacks. Dhaka police arrested two suspected recruiters for the hardline Islamist group over the past year.

On Saturday, ISIS warned of more attacks. "There will continue to be a series of ongoing security operations against nationals of crusader coalition countries, they will not have safety or a livelihood in Muslim lands," the group tweeted.

After Mr Tavella's killing in the Gulshan neighbourhood, home to several embassies, concerns that foreigners might be targeted prompted Western embassies to curtail the movements of diplomats in Bangladesh.

Australia postponed their tour of Bangladesh, saying on Thursday they were advised against going ahead with a two-test series that could expose their cricketers to potential militant attacks in the country.

Police are interrogating four people for clues to Mr Hoshi's killing, but no arrests have been made over Mr Tavella's murder.

The violence could pose a fresh threat to Bangladesh's US$25 billion (S$36 billion) garment export industry, the economic lifeblood of the country of 160 million people.

Western buyers had begun to cancel visits after Mr Tavella's shooting, said Mr Shahidullah Azim, a garment exporter.

"One of my American buyers also cancelled his Dhaka visit during peak time, when buyers are supposed to place more orders," he told Reuters. "The killing of a Japanese citizen within a week has created more panic among foreign buyers."

The garment industry, which supplies Western brands such as Wal-Mart, JC Penney and H&M, has already been in the spotlight over several fatal accidents, such as the 2013 collapse of a building housing factories that killed more than 1,130 people.