Two Bangladeshi militants on death row for killing US blogger escape from court

Two Islamist militants sentenced to death for killing a Bangladeshi-American blogger and his publisher, escaped from the premises of a crowded court in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on Sunday.

Men on motorcycles attacked police officers escorting the convicts by spraying chemicals on them before snatching away the inmates, police said.

Authorities launched a “massive manhunt” on Sunday to capture the convicts and those who helped them escape, home minister Asaduzzaman told reporters.

Five members of the al Qaeda-inspired domestic militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team were sentenced to death last year, with one sentenced to life for killing secular blogger Avijit Roy and his publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan.

The 42-year-old blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in February 2015 while returning home with his wife from a book fair in Dhaka.

His wife, blogger Rafida Bonya Ahmed, suffered head injuries and lost a thumb in the attack.

Another eight militants were sentenced to death for hacking the publisher to death at his office in Dhaka’s Shahbagh area in November of the same year.

Surveillance footage from Sunday showed three people on a motorbike followed by a rider on another motorbike fleeing from where the inmates were intercepted.

The home ministry issued a red alert on the country’s border and a reward of £8,171 for information leading to the absconding prisoners’ arrest.

Five police officers who were on duty when the militants escaped have been temporarily suspended, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) said on Monday.

“We’re currently investigating the incident and we’ll get the real picture once the investigation is done,” said Jashim Uddin, deputy police commissioner of DMP.

The detective branch of the Dhaka police said the absconding inmates would be arrested “anytime soon”.

Harun or-Rashid, the additional commissioner of the detective branch, said strict security measures have been maintained while bringing militants to court but “what happened” on Sunday was “unexpected”.

“Attempts are being made to arrest every accused involved in the escaping of the militants,” he was quoted as saying by Bangladesh news agency UNB.

The authorities have pegged sacked army major Syed Ziaul Haque to be the mastermind behind the whisking away of the militants.

“They are all under our watch and will be brought to justice,” added the additional commisioner of the Dhaka police’s detective branch.

The Islam-majority south Asian country witnessed a series of targetted killings of bloggers, secular activists and religious minorities between 2013 and 2016 – all claimed by Isis or al-Qaeda-aligned groups.

In 2016, at least 22 people, including 17 foreign nationals, were killed in an attack at a cafe in Dhaka, sparking global uproar.