By JULFIKAR ALI MANIK and NIDA NAJAR
MAY 8, 2016
DHAKA, Bangladesh — A local Sufi Muslim leader in northern Bangladesh was found hacked to death in a secluded mango grove, the police said on Saturday.
A girl in the district of Rajshahi happened upon the body of Mohammad Shahidullah in a dry pond under a mango tree as she was gathering dried leaves for a fire on Friday evening. Mr. Shahidullah was found about 25 miles from his home with two deep wounds in his neck and throat, said Abul Kalam Azad, a police official in Rajshahi. Mr. Shahidullah, who owned a grocery store in his village, had left home that morning, Mr. Azad said.
Similar attacks on intellectuals, secular writers and others have taken place over the last two years in Bangladesh. The attacks have seemed to increase in recent weeks, with a Hindu tailor being hacked to death last month, as were two gay rights activists, among others. Several of the assaults have been claimed by the Islamic State or by a branch of Al Qaeda, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist websites. An English professor was hacked to death, also in Rajshahi, last month, in an attack that was claimed by the Islamic State and that police said they believed was connected to Islamist militants.
But Mr. Azad said that this latest attack differed from the others in that it did not appear to have been carried out in the open, but rather in a secluded field. When asked if the police suspected Islamist militants, Mr. Azad said it was too soon to tell.
“We are in a preliminary stage of the investigation, so we can’t say much about the possible motive behind the killing,” Mr. Azad said. “But we suspect he might have been killed due to conflict with neighbors over land, or he might have been killed due to conflict over his religious belief or ideology.”
Mr. Shahidullah was a pir, a leader in Sufism, the mystical form of Islam, and had more than two dozen followers in other villages, said his son, Shojol Ahmed. Sufism is seen as a moderate form of Islam, and attacks on secular bloggers and religious minorities have raised fears of a rising Islamic fundamentalism in the country.
Mr. Ahmed disputed the notion that his father’s killing involved any altercation with his neighbors.
“I never heard that my father had any conflict with anyone,” said Mr. Ahmed. “I never heard that my father had any enemy.”
Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka and Nida Najar reported from New Delhi