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Who's targeting Bangladeshi writers?
01:52 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan denies al Qaeda's claim of responsibility

"The bloggers, they should control their writing," he says

Six writers have been killed in Bangladesh in the past 14 months

CNN  — 

Home-grown militants – not the Bangladeshi branch of al Qaeda – are responsible for the grisly machete killing of a secular blogger, the country’s home minister said.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan’s statement Sunday came days after Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladeshi division of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, claimed responsibility for the killing of blogger Nazimuddin Samad last week.

Khan said authorities are investigating two to three people in connection with the attack, but they have not arrested them because officials are still trying to confirm their involvement.

Samad’s death marks the sixth time a Bangladeshi writer of atheist material has been killed in 14 months.

Instead, they have often claimed homegrown extremists are responsible for such attacks.

A gruesome attack

According to the jihadist monitoring group SITE, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claims that the movement’s Bangladesh branch “carried out an operation to slaughter” Nazimuddin Samad in the nation’s capital.

“First the attackers hacked Samad with machetes, then shot him,” Dhaka Senior Assistant Police Commissioner Nurul Amin said.

Police said the attackers then fled the scene on motorcycles. No arrests have been made.

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War against atheism

In its statement claiming responsibility, al Qaeda accused Samad of being an “enemy of Allah.” It listed three of Samad’s posts on Facebook going back to 2013 as examples of his insults against Islam.

Bangladeshi students  protest in Dhaka on April 7 following Samad's slaying.

The group effectively declares war against atheist writers who dare to challenge al Qaeda’s strict interpretation of Islam.

It also threatens to target judges, lawyers, engineers and doctors “who don’t allow others to follow the rulings of the Islamic Shariah.”

Is there a way to protect Bangladeshi writers?

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan echoed those sentiments on Saturday. He said the issue is not freedom of expression but tolerance of other religions.

“The bloggers, they should control their writing,” he told CNN. “Our country is a secular state… I want to say that people should be careful not to hurt anyone by writing anything – hurt any religion, any people’s beliefs, any religious leaders.”

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The Bangladeshi government has vowed to bring killers to justice.

Law Minister Huq pointed to the December 2015 death sentence handed down to two men convicted of killing blogger Ahmed Rajib in 2013.

Several top government officials insist security forces will provide protection to writers who feel their lives are at risk.

Anger, resignation

But some feel that not enough is being done. The response to Samad’s murder has raised emotions amongst fellow Bangladeshi writers and students, amongst others. They took to the streets of Dhaka over the weekend, demanding action from the government.

“We want to see a change in Bangladesh’s public policy,” said Ripon Sardar, a student from Jagannath University who was demonstrating in the capital over the weekend.

The view is shared by many the blogging community, but there is a sense of frustration, if not resignation, at the government’s ability to protect them and the free speech that is vital to their work.

Atheists flee Bangladesh

But members of the besieged “free-thinker” intellectual community in Bangladesh say they do not trust the police, because in recent years authorities prosecuted several writers for “insulting religion” in their published work.

“I have not gone to the police because police actually tried to arrest me in 2013,” said one atheist blogger in Bangladesh.

He asked not to be identified, due to the fact that he is on a hit list of 84 atheist writers published by a jihadi group more than a year ago. The blogger is part of a network that has helped at least a dozen colleagues flee Bangladesh.

“This community is shattered,” the writer said.

To avoid being murdered, the blogger said he stopped posting comments online, changed his phone number and place of residence and regularly changed his route to and from work.

He said he felt like it was a de facto crime to admit to being an atheist in this majority Muslim country.

“I’m definitely living in fear,” the writer said.

In 2015, the freedom of press watchdog organization Committee to Protect Journalists listed Bangladesh as 12th in the world on its Global Impunity Index highlighting countries “where journalists are slain and the killers go free.”

CNN’s Roshni Majumdar in New Delhi contributed to this report.