Five Bangladesh Islamists sentenced to death for writer’s murder

Dhaka: Five Islamist extremists were sentenced to death on Tuesday over the brutal murder of a Bangladeshi-American writer and rights activist six years ago.

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Avijit Roy, a prolific blogger and the author of 10 books including the best-selling “Biswasher Virus” (“Virus of Faith”), was hacked to death outside Bangladesh’s largest book fair by machete-wielding extremists in February 2015.

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The murder, part of a reign of terror by extremists at the time, enraged the Muslim-majority nation’s secular activists who staged days of protests.

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The judge at Dhaka’s Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal found six people guilty, sentencing five to death and one to life in prison, prosecutor Golam Sarwar Zakir told AFP.

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Two of them were tried in absentia, including sacked army officer Syed Ziaul Haque who was accused of leading the group that carried out the attack – known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, or Ansar al Islam.

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Roy was born in Bangladesh in 1972 and moved to the United States in 2006 from where he continued to criticise the government for the jailing of atheist bloggers.

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A defence lawyer said they would appeal the verdict in a higher court.

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It comes less than a week after eight Islamist extremists were sentenced to death for the murder of a publisher who brought out books by secular writers, including two by Roy.

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The attacks were part of a wave of violence between 2013 and 2016 targeting secular activists, bloggers and atheist writers at a time of heightened political tensions.

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Several top Islamist political party leaders were hanged over the violence under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

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The Bangladesh government has since set up two major anti-terrorism police units to crack down on Islamist extremists.

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More than 100 suspects have been killed in anti-terror raids and hundreds detained. Around half a dozen Islamist militant outfits have been banned.

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Bangladesh cricket star Shakib Al Hasan has become the latest target of radicals, and had to be given an armed bodyguard after he was threatened for attending a Hindu ceremony in India.

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