Bangladesh steps up security for foreigners

Extra forces deployed at homes, workplaces in the wake of two attacks within one week

DHAKA • Bangladesh stepped up security for foreign citizens and diplomats yesterday after the killing of two foreigners within a week, in attacks for which the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility.

But Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday dismissed ISIS' claim, saying police still had no evidence to confirm that 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 last 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 last 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," said Mr Muntasirul Islam, deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.

Attacks on foreigners were 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, among them a United States citizen, were hacked to death.

Over the past year, Dhaka police have arrested two suspected recruiters for ISIS, which has ambitions to spread into South Asia.

Last Saturday, the hardline Islamist group warned of more such attacks in the Muslim-majority nation.

"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.

Cricket Australia postponed its tour of Bangladesh, saying last Thursday that it was advised against going ahead with a two-test series that could expose Australian 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$35.8 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 said. "The killing of a Japanese citizen within a week has created more panic among foreign buyers."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'Bangladesh steps up security for foreigners'. Print Edition | Subscribe