The Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the killing of a gay rights activist and his friend, undermining the prime minister’s insistence just hours earlier that her political opponents were to blame for the attack.
The claim by Ansar-al-islam – which said it targeted the two men on Monday night because they were “pioneers of practising and promoting homosexuality” – raised doubts about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s repeated assurances that authorities have the security situation under control.
The victims of the attack were identified as Xulhaz Mannan, an activist who also worked for the US Agency for International Development, and his friend, theatre actor Tanay Majumder.
Mannan, a cousin of former Foreign Minister Dipu Moni of the governing party, was also an editor of Bangladesh’s first gay rights magazine, Roopbaan.
Majumder sometimes helped with the publishing, local media said.
At a funeral for Mannan on Tuesday, his brother said free speech was something Islam should protect.
“A true Muslim will always consider that he has freedom of expression,” Minhaz Mannan Emon said.
“We should respect that opinion. We hope… particularly I, on behalf of the family, hope that no other family loses their child or brother like us in the future.”
Mannan had written openly about the frustration of living “in the closet” as a gay man in Bangladesh, where homosexual relations are considered a crime.
In a May 2014 blog, he said gays and lesbians in Bangladesh experience “a country where the predominant religions say you are a sinner, the law of the land says you are a criminal, the social norms say you are a pervert, the culture considers you as imported.”
Ansar-al Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaeda on the Indian subcontinent, or AQIS, claimed responsibility in a Twitter message on Tuesday for what it called a “blessed attack” on Mannan and Majumder.
It said the two were killed because they were “pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh” and were “working day and night to promote homosexuality … with the help of their masters, the US crusaders and its Indian allies.”
Police said no arrests have yet been made in connection with Monday’s attack, which involved at least five young men who posed as courier service employees to gain access to Mannan’s apartment building.