Authorities in Bangladesh said Tuesday that they arrested three men, including a British citizen, for their involvement in the murders of two secular bloggers.
The three are suspected members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, a banned armed group, said Maj. Maksudul Alam, a spokesman for the country's Rapid Action Battalion. Bangladesh banned the group in May after police accused its members of threatening and killing bloggers and writers.
Alam said one of the arrested men, Touhidur Rahman — a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin — was the mastermind and financier of the attacks on bloggers Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, who were killed earlier this year.
The suspects were arrested Monday night in raids in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, and appeared with authorities at a news briefing Tuesday.
Mufti Mahmud Khan, the head of the battalion's media wing, told reporters that while Rahman was the main planner of the killings, another suspect who was arrested, Sadek Ali, acted as a bridge to communicate with Mufti Jasim Rahmani, the alleged head of the group. Ali, 28, became involved with Rahmani while working as a printing press worker, Khan said.
Rahmani is currently in jail awaiting trial in the murder of another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, in Dhaka in 2013.
“Ali often visited the prison to meet Rahmani for instructions,” Khan said.
He said the third suspect, 35-year-old Aminul Mollick, was a broker at a passport office and helped members of the group make fake passports so that they could travel abroad if necessary.
The battalion did not allow the detainees to talk to reporters at the news briefing.
Khan said Rahman, 58, is an information technology expert and returned to Bangladesh from the United Kingdom in either 2011 or 2012. He then got in touch with Rahmani, who inspired him to work for the group.
“He is the main planner of all the recent killings of the bloggers,” Khan said.
During an interrogation after their arrests, Khan said, the men admitted that a team of four or five took part in the killing of Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen. The same team was involved in the attack on Das, Khan said.
Roy was a prominent voice against religious extremism and created a network of atheist bloggers at home and abroad. His wife, also a blogger, was injured in the attack, which took place as the couple walked on the campus of Dhaka University.
There have been several such attacks on secular bloggers and writers in recent years. An increasing divide between secular voices and hardline groups has been visible in the country, with bloggers calling for banning religion-based political parties that seek blasphemy laws to protect their faith.
Bangladesh, which is predominantly Muslim, is ruled by secular laws based on British common law.
The Associated Press