Two "high-ranking" members of the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) have been shot dead in a battle in Dhaka and another was killed in a northwestern district, police have told AFP

(From AFP)

Bangladesh police on Tuesday launched a deadly crackdown on Islamist militants as a 70-year-old Hindu priest became the latest victim in a series of gruesome killings by suspected jihadists.

Bangladesh police have shot dead two “high-ranking” members of the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh in Dhaka and another in a north-western district

Security forces waged deadly gun battles with members of a home-grown jihadist group.

Two “high-ranking” members of the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were shot dead in Dhaka for their roles “in most of the recent attacks” including the bombing of a Shiite mosque and the murder of a liberal professor, said deputy commissioner of police M.R Khaled.

The third militant was killed in a gunfight in the town of Godagari in the northwestern district of Rajshahi, said local police chief Abu Forhad.

Bangladeshi authorities have been coming under mounting international pressure to end the string of attacks on religious minorities and secular activists that have left more than 40 people dead in the last three years.

Authorities have blamed home-grown Islamists for the attacks, which have surged in recent weeks, rejecting claims of responsibility from the Islamic State (IS) group and a South Asia branch of Al-Qaeda.

IS claimed the latest victim, Hindu priest Ananda Gopal Ganguly, whose head was nearly severed. The group, through its Amaq news agency, said it “assassinated” the priest, according to the SITE monitoring group, as he was walking to prayers.

Farmers discovered Ganguly’s body in a rice field near his home in the village of Noldanga in the western district of Jhenidah.

Investigators said the murder bore the hallmarks of recent attacks by local Islamist extremists who have carried out 10 other similar killings in the last 10 weeks.

Witnesses saw three unidentified men on a motorcycle attack him with a bamboo stick before “they slit his throat”, the district’s deputy police chief Gopinath Kanjilal said.

“He left home this morning saying that he was going to a Hindu house to offer prayers,” Kanjilal said.

“Later, farmers found his near-decapitated body in a rice field.”

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