Friday, October 2, 2015

Fears of radical Islam’s rise in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A string of slayings claimed by radical Islamic groups has Bangladesh scrambling to contain what appears to be a rising tide of extremism, and it couldn't have come at a worse time — the country's fragile economic growth is faltering this year amid renewed political unrest.

The secular South Asian nation — traditionally moderate even if unstable at times — has repeatedly insisted it has religious radicalism in check and is maintaining peace among its 160 million people. That claim was severely tested this week after an Italian aid worker became the fifth person to be killed this year in attacks claimed by extremist groups.

A foreigner being gunned down in the country's capital is bad news for Bangladesh, whose economy is heavily reliant on a $25 billion garment industry that produces clothing and fashion wear for international brands including Zara, Benetton and Gap.

Hassan Shariar, a well-known political commentator and columnist, said even though the government won't acknowledge it, there clearly are pockets of radical Islam in the country.

"I don't know why intelligence (agencies) failed to understand that things are going out of control," he said. "It is clearly evident ... that they are failing to contain it with an iron hand."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been cracking down on radicals. Police have arrested dozens of suspected members of various hardline militant groups in recent years, including six that have been banned.

Still, the violence has continued. In February, when cleaver-wielding attackers killed an atheist writer and blogger, U.S. citizen Avijit Roy, authorities called it a random, isolated incident executed by religious fanatics.

Then it happened again. And again. And again.

In total, four bloggers and online activists — all critics of radical Islam — have been hacked to death with meat cleavers in daytime attacks. A hit list of 84 bloggers including many living in Europe and the United States has appeared online, allegedly posted by the Ansarullah Bangla Team — the same banned militant group that claimed responsibility or involvement in killing the bloggers.