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Bangladesh arrests suspect in secular activist murders

Dhaka (AFP): Bangladesh police said Monday they have arrested the main suspect in the murders of a gay activist and a secular blogger who wrote against radical Islam.

They say Rashidun Nabi is the main suspect in the murder of 26-year-old law student and blogger Nazimuddin Samad and gay activist Xulhaz Mannan, who were brutally hacked to death in April.

Bangladesh has seen a spate of gruesome attacks on secular activists, religious minorities, bloggers, gay rights activists and foreigners, many of whom have been hacked to death with machetes.

Counter-terrorism officers said they detained Nabi at a bus station in the capital Dhaka, alleging he was the ringleader in Samad’s killing.

“Five people including Rashidun Nabi took part in Samad’s killing,” said Monirul Islam, head of Dhaka police’s counter-terrorism unit.

“They all carried sharp weapons and one carried a firearm. They hacked Nazimuddin with the sharp weapons and later shot him when people started to gather around,” he told reporters.

Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman said Nabi was also a suspect in Mannan’s murder, and in an attack on publisher Ahmedur Rashid Tutul.

A police statement said Nabi was a member of Ansar al-Islam, also known as Ansarullah Bangla Team, which purports to be the Bangladesh branch of Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent.

Ansar is one of two homegrown extremist outfits accused in the recent wave of murders, and had claimed responsibility for Samad’s killing.

Nabi’s arrest was announced hours after Bangladesh executed a militant leader of the outlawed Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) over a 2005 blast that killed two judges.

The government has blamed JMB for a deadly July 1 attack in an upmarket Dhaka cafe where 22 people, mostly foreigners, were killed by suspected militants.

Bangladesh security forces have launched a deadly new crackdown against Islamist extremists following the cafe siege, which has shaken the image of Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim nation.

Since July, police have shot dead nearly 40 suspected extremists including JMB’s new leader Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen of Bangladeshi descent who allegedly masterminded the cafe carnage.