Bangladesh blames Islamists for brutal murder of activist

Nazimuddin Samad, a law student who criticized Islamism in Facebook posts, was killed last week near his university

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Bangladeshi police said on Tuesday they suspect a domestic Islamist militant group of being behind the brutal murder of a secular activist in Dhaka, days after a branch of Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Nazimuddin Samad, a law student who criticized Islamism in Facebook posts, was killed last week near his university in the capital by attackers carrying machetes, the latest in a string of deadly assaults on secular activists.

Ansar al-Islam, a Bangladesh branch of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), said on Friday it was behind the 26-year-old's murder, according to the US monitoring group SITE.

But Dhaka Metropolitan Police officers said they believe it was the work of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), a homegrown militant outfit that has been blamed in similar cases.

"We suspect Ansarullah Bangla Team has carried out the murder," Maruf Hossain Sorder, a spokesman for the force, told AFP.

"There were some similarities between the latest murder and the previous killings of bloggers," he added.

Bangladesh authorities have consistently denied that international Islamist networks such as Al-Qaeda or ISIS are active in the country.

"Al-Qaeda or ISIS do not exist in Bangladesh," Sorder said.

Samad was the seventh secular activist -- the sixth in the past 15 months -- to have been murdered by suspected Islamist militants over their writings.

Police have previously arrested several suspected members of ABT in connection with at least three of these murders.

Eight ABT members, including a top cleric said to have founded the group, were convicted late last year for the murder of atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider in February 2013.

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

Hundreds of secular activists last week held a days-long protest in Dhaka and Samad's home-town of Sylhet to demand action over his death.

AQIS previously claimed responsibility for the murder of an American atheist blogger who was hacked to death on the streets of Dhaka in February 2015.

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