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Amid Global Criticism, Bangladesh Nabs Suspect in Killing of Gay Activists

The bad news is that the attacker appears to be a home-grown militant, which means the bloodshed wracking the country won’t end anytime soon.

Bangladesh police parade suspect Shariful Islam Shihab (C) in Dhaka on May 15, 2016, after his arrest in connection with the murder of two gay rights activists.
Bangladesh police have arrested a suspected Islamist militant over the hacking to death of two gay rights activists, part of a spate of murders of intellectuals, writers and religious minorities, officers said May 15. / AFP / -        (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Bangladesh police parade suspect Shariful Islam Shihab (C) in Dhaka on May 15, 2016, after his arrest in connection with the murder of two gay rights activists. Bangladesh police have arrested a suspected Islamist militant over the hacking to death of two gay rights activists, part of a spate of murders of intellectuals, writers and religious minorities, officers said May 15. / AFP / - (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

The man allegedly responsible for the brutal slayings of two LGBT activists in Bangladesh has been apprehended by authorities there. That’s the good news for a government accused of not doing enough to stem a recent tide of Islamist violence. The bad news is that the attacker appears to be a home-grown militant, which means the bloodshed wracking the country won’t end anytime soon.

The suspect, Shariful Islam, is a Bangladeshi citizen who is reportedly a member of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, a banned group that published a hit list in 2013 of bloggers around the world who they planned to kill. Some experts think the group has ties to al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, which claimed responsibility for the attacks on the gay activists.

The two slain activists, Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar had come out publicly in an attempt to raise awareness and encourage others to do the same. Mannan edited Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, Roopbaan. He also helped plan the Rainbow Rally, a parade on New Year’s to encourage the acceptance of LGBT people in Bangladesh, where homosexuality is still technically illegal.

In the aftermath of their slayings, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blamed Mannan and Mojumdar’s deaths on opposition parties, who she said were “involved with these secret killings as they want to destabilize the government and the country.”

But human rights advocates say the government itself bears part of the blame. Hasina responded to the uptick in killings by promising to prosecute the bloggers themselves for “hurting people’s religious sentiments.”

“The government needs to protect activists and to call a halt to the impunity that links this chain of vicious murders,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement following Mannan’s and Mojumdar’s deaths.

The Islamic State took credit for the killing of an English professor days before Mannan and Mojumdar were slain. Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, was attacked with machetes on his way to catch a bus. The group accused him of “calling to atheism” in a statement after his death.  

In the meantime, the extremist violence shows no sign of abating: Last Friday, an elderly Buddhist monk was found with his throat slit in a temple in the Bandarban district.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert
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