DHAKA–The murder of yet another priest in Bangladesh last week has raised the question again – who were the killers, a local militant group or Islamic State (IS)?

A Bangladeshi policeman guards a temple where a Hindu priest was killed in Debiganj on Feb. 21

Police arrested six people suspected to be of the outlawed Islamist organization Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) for the murder of  Jogeshwar Dasa Dhikari on February 21.

But the US-based terror monitoring group SITE Intelligence says IS has claimed responsibility for the attack on Sri Sri Shonto Gaurio temple, Shonapota.

On February 26, police conducted an overnight raid at a house in Debiganj and arrested three JMB suspects. They also seized firearms, crude bombs, grenades and other weapons from them.

According to witnesses, as the priest was organizing morning prayers, three people on scooter approached the temple and drew the priest out by throwing stones at the temple.  They then stabbed him and slit his throat, shot at a devotee who came to his help and sped away.

On the same day, police arrested three JMB suspects from adjoining areas. Hours after the murder, IS claimed responsibility for the killing.

“The murder incident had left the entire community of Debiganj distraught for more than a week,” said Abdur Rahim, a resident of Panchargarh, to Asia Times. “But a sense of relief returned after the police conducted the latest raid and arrested three more JMB members,” he added.

Debiganj Upazila officer-in-charge Babul Akhter did not share the names of the six detained, while speaking to Asia Times. “We are still interrogating them and the matter is under investigation,” he said.

When asked whether the police have found any links between the JMB suspects and IS, he said: “They [the suspects] have not admitted to any links with IS. The international terror outfit has claimed responsibility for other incidents in Bangladesh as well. But upon investigation, it was found the claims were baseless. This will, most likely, prove to be the same.”

Earlier, IS had claimed responsibility for the murders of Italian national Cesare Tavella and Japanese citizen Kunio Hoshi and the bomb attack on a Shia Muslim gathering in Hossaini Dalan, Dhaka, in 2015.

Jogeshwar is the fourth priest targeted by militants during the past five months.

Pastor Luke Sarker of Pabna and Italian pastor Piero Parolari of Dinajpur were attacked in their homes on October 5 and November 18 respectively in 2015.

An attack during evening prayers at a Shia mosque of Northwestern Bangladesh on November 26 had resulted in the death of the elderly muezzin and left three others injured.

Talking to Asia Times, security expert Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan said it is possible that “banned local militant organizations like JMB and Harkatul Jihad Al Islami (HuJI)” are behind the attacks in a desperate “bid to gain the attention of international outfits like Al Qaeda and IS”.

A similar notion was placed in written testimony about worldwide threats by James Clapper, director of National Intelligence Agency, at a senate hearing on February 9, 2016 in Washington.

In his speech, Clapper warned that violent extremists are active in about 40 countries and that more terrorist havens exist now “than at any time in history.”

Claiming that IS and its eight branches are the No.1 terrorist threat, he said the group is infiltrating groups of refugees escaping Iraq and Syria to move across borders.

Bangladesh is one of the countries where extremists are active, he said.

While quoting 11 high profile attacks on foreigners, religious minorities and others during the past year, Clapper said efforts by Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina to undermine the political opposition will probably provide openings for transnational terrorist groups to expand their presence in the South Asian country.

Clapper also questioned Bangladesh’s public insistence that such attacks were the work of opposition parties BNP and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami in an attempt to discredit the government of Hasina.

Within hours, Bangladeshi state-owned news agency BSS reported that the speculation was denied by the Bangladesh government vehemently during a meeting between a US congressman and Bangladeshi ambassador to the United States Mohammad Ziauddin.

Ziauddin told the Congressman that Hasina has vowed “zero tolerance against all forms of extremism and terrorism and is personally committed to uproot[ing] extremism and terrorism from the soil of Bangladesh”.

According to him, Hasina’s government also was working with the US and other countries to combat the threat both within and outside Bangladesh’s borders.

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist and editor of  Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.

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