Hindu temple worker hacked to death in Bangladesh

A Hindu temple worker was hacked to death in western Bangladesh on Friday, police said, the latest in a series of attacks on religious minorities by suspected Islamists. Three men on a motorcycle attacked Shyamananda Das as he walked along a road near the temple early in the morning, police said. "They hacked him on his neck three times and there was one stabbing mark in his head," deputy district police chief Gopinath Kanjilal told AFP. "He died after he was brought to hospital." Police said the 50-year-old, also known as Babaji, was a volunteer who helped conduct prayers at temples. "He was an itinerant temple volunteer who travels from one temple to another to serve the Hindu devotees. He came to this temple only yesterday," said local police chief inspector Hasan Hafizur Rahman. "He was attacked as he walked outside the temple to collect flowers for prayer services," he told AFP. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but police said it bore the hallmarks of recent murders of religious minorities by suspected homegrown Islamist militants. Last month a Hindu priest, 70-year-old Ananda Gopal Ganguly, was hacked to death in the same district. Days later, a Hindu monastery worker was murdered in the same way in a northwestern district. Deputy police chief Kanjilal said an activist with the student wing of the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, had been arrested over the attack. Hours before the murder, two Jamaat student activists were shot dead in a gunfight with police just a few miles (kilometres) from the Hindu temple, two police officials told AFP. "They are local leaders of Islami Chhatra Shibir and were suspects in last month's murder of the Hindu priest," Rahman told AFP. - Targeted killings - Bangladesh is reeling from a wave of murders of secular and liberal activists and religious minorities that have left some 50 people dead in the last three years. Victims of the attacks by suspected Islamists have included secular bloggers, gay rights activists and followers of minority religions including Hindus, Christians and Muslim Sufis and Shiites. Since April, more than a dozen people have been hacked to death amid a sharp spike in the targeted killings. Most of the recent attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State organisation or the South Asian branch of Al-Qaeda. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government, however, has blamed homegrown Islamists for the attacks. Experts say a government crackdown on opponents, including a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami following a protracted political crisis, has pushed many towards extremism. Last month police arrested more than 11,000 people, including nearly 200 suspected militants, in an anti-Islamist drive criticised by the opposition and some rights groups, which said it was used as an excuse to clamp down on dissent. At least nine suspected Islamists were shot dead in what police said were gunfights. Some rights activists contradict that account and say they were extrajudicial killings. Jamaat-e-Islami is a long-standing ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Although Bangladesh is officially secular, around 90 percent of its 160 million-strong population is Muslim. About one in 10 are Hindu.

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