Bangladeshi police have arrested three people in connection with the beheading of the highest-ranking priest of a Hindu temple in northern Bangladesh, officials said.
Jogeshwar Das, 50, the Hindu priest, was attacked by two men around 7 a.m. Sunday while performing a prayer on his veranda in a village in northern Panchagarh, about 250 miles from the capital, Dhaka.
Mohammad Babul Aker, an officer in charge of the Debiganj police station in the Panchagarh District, said two of the three men were involved with a banned militant group, Jama’atul Mujahedeen Bangladesh, and the third with the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamic political party. The men have been charged with murder and weapons counts, the New York Times reports.
Ghiasuddin, the superintendent of police in the district, said the men hurled a bomb and fired two rounds of bullets as they fled the home of Jogeshwar Das to meet a third man who waited on a motorcycle. A Hindu devotee who had come to pray in the temple near the home was hit by a bullet, but his condition was not critical. Police had ramped up security in Hindu temples and centers in the district after receiving anonymous threats, he added.
On Sunday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a message attributed to the group on Twitter, according to the SITE intelligence group, which monitors global terrorist organizations.
The ISIS statement read in Arabic, “In a security operation facilitated by the almighty God, soldiers of the Caliphate liquidated the priest Jogeshwar Roy, the founder and the head of the Deviganj temple that belongs to the infidel Hindus. One of his companions was hurt after being targeted with light weapons in the area of Panchagar in Northern Bangladesh, and the Mujahideen returned to their positions unharmed, and all praise be to God.”
The government denies that Islamic State has a presence in the Muslim-majority country of 160 million people. Police have blamed earlier attacks on homegrown Islamist militants. Foreigners, secular writers, and publishers have been killed in recent months, and mosques and Hindu temples have been bombed.
Social media accounts linked to the Islamic State have claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks in Bangladesh, including the killing of two foreigners in September and October and the shooting of a Roman Catholic missionary and a shooting at a Shiite mosque in November, which left one dead.
Bangladesh’s government has reacted by placing blame for some of the attacks on groups affiliated with opposition parties.
Begum Khaleda Zia, the chief of Bangladesh’s Nationalist Party, claimed that the killing of a Hindu priest was “evil.”
“I, in the possible strongest terms, condemn and deplore the attack and the killing of a member of a minority religious community. They are also peace loving citizens of this soil and have the right to live in this country.”
The government accuses Zia’s party of being sympathetic to violent Islam, charges the party denies. But the party has mostly remained silent as a wave of Islamist attacks has swept the country, Swissinfo reports.
Jogeshwar Das established the temple 19 years ago on land that he had inherited from his father. Dr. Raziul Karim, who examined the body at a hospital in Panchagarh, confirmed that Das had been decapitated.
Security agencies are investigating the motive for the killing. Witnesses said they saw two men between the ages of 25 and 30, one with his face covered by a scarf.
Rabindranath Roy, Jogeshwar’s 55-year-old brother, said, “I am not sure whether we will get justice or not. But I want justice for the killing of my innocent brother.”
Bangladesh has been a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalist activities, targeting and killing any secular voices of dissent. The killing of the Hindu priest is one more incident aimed at spreading fear and terror.
[Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images]