Bangladesh professor hacked to death in suspected Islamist attack

A man holds a portrait of Bangladeshi professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, who was hacked to death by unidentified attackers, on April 23, 2016.
A man holds a portrait of Bangladeshi professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, who was hacked to death by unidentified attackers, on April 23, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Unidentified attackers hacked to death a university professor in Bangladesh on Saturday (April 23), the police said, adding that the assault bore the hallmarks of previous killings by Islamist militants on secular and atheist activists.

Police said English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, was hacked from behind with machetes as he walked to the bus station from his home in the country's north-western city of Rajshahi, where he taught at the city's public university.

"His neck was hacked at least three times and was 70 to 80 per cent slit. By examining the nature of the attack, we suspect that it was carried out by extremist groups," Rajshahi Metropolitan Police commissioner Mohammad Shamsuddin told AFP.

Mr Shamsuddin said the police had not yet named any suspects, but added that the pattern of the attack fitted with previous killings by Islamist militants.

Mr Nahidul Islam, a deputy commissioner of police, said Prof Siddique was involved in cultural programmes, including music, and set up a school at Bagmara, a former bastion of an outlawed Islamist group, Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).

"The attack is similar to the ones carried out on (atheist) bloggers in the recent past," Mr Islam said.

Professor Sakhawat Hossain, a fellow English professor from the university and a friend, said the slain teacher played the Tanpura, a musical instrument popular in South Asia, and wrote poems and short stories.

"He used to lead a cultural group called Komol Gandhar and edit a biannual literary magazine with the same name. But he never wrote or spoke against religion in public," Prof Hossain told AFP.

The police said Prof Siddique was the fourth professor from Rajshahi University to have been murdered.

In February, a court handed down life sentences to two Islamist militants for the murder of Professor Mohammad Yunus.

Homegrown Islamist militants have been blamed for a number of murders of secular bloggers since 2013, the most recent being in the capital Dhaka early this month.

The police said that in each of the attacks unidentified assailants hacked the victim to death with machetes or cleavers.

Eight members of banned Islamist group Ansarullah Bangla Team, including a top cleric who is said to have founded the group, were convicted late last year for the murder of atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013.

The recent killings have sparked outrage at home and abroad, with international rights groups demanding that the secular government protect freedom of speech in the Muslim-majority country.

Ansar al-Islam, a Bangladesh branch of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, this month claimed responsibility for the murder of 26-year-old Mr Nazimuddin Samad, a law student who was killed on the streets of Dhaka, according to United States monitoring group SITE.

The police, however, blamed the Ansarullah for the murder.

The Bangladesh authorities have consistently denied that international Islamist networks such as Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which recently claimed responsibility for the murders of minorities and foreigners, are active in the country.

A long-running political crisis in the majority Sunni Muslim but officially secular country has radicalised opponents of the government and analysts say Islamist extremists pose a growing danger.