A member of a homegrown Islamist militant group in Bangladesh has been arrested in connection with the hacking deaths of two LGBT-rights activists, police in Dhaka, the nation’s capital, said Sunday.
Shariful Islam Shihab, 37, a member of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, was arrested in a western district of Kushtia, said police media relations officer Maruf Hossain Sorder. Members of the group have been arrested in other hacking deaths in Bangladesh.
Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar were inside an apartment April 25 when five or six young men posing as couriers arrived under the guise of delivering a package and hacked them to death with machetes, said police in Dhaka. Mannan’s mother and a maid were inside the apartment at the time but were not killed.
Mannan was an employee of the American government antipoverty agency USAID as well as editor of the country’s first LGBT magazine. Mojumdar was also a leader in the fight for LGBT rights and had acted on the stage and television in Bangladesh.
The attackers carried guns as well as machetes. Police said Shihab allegedly owns one of the guns.
Counterterrorism expert officer Monirul Islam said Shihab has provided important information about the killings to authorities.
In the last 14 months, at least six atheist bloggers and secular writers and editors have been hacked to death, sometimes in public places.
Last August, police in Bangladesh arrested three suspected members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, one of them a British citizen, in connection with the killings of Avijit Roy and Anant Bijoy Das, two prominent bloggers.
Dr. Ajit Kumar Singh, a research fellow at the South Asia Terror Portal in New Delhi, told CNN last year that the Ansarullah Bangla Team, more commonly known as Ansar Bangla, is believed to be linked to al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent through AQIS, a branch of the international terrorist network that formed in recent years, he said.
Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladeshi division of al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, has claimed responsibility for the killings of Mannan and Mojumdar.
Mannan and Mojumdar were killed one day after after Bangladeshi police detained a university student in the hacking death of 58-year-old Rezaul Karim Siddique, an English teacher at Rajshahi University.
Authorities are not sure if Siddique’s death was part of the pattern of attacks because he was neither a blogger or an anti-Islamic campaigner.
The court system has granted police three days to interrogate Shihab about this case, court police inspector Mohammad Shahid said.
CNN’s Karen Smith contributed to this report.