A team of several jihadists posing as delivery men killed a LGBT activist, Xulhaz Mannan, and his friend in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka yesterday. The men were reportedly hacked to death with machetes in Mannan’s flat.
Ansar al Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), quickly claimed responsibility for the slayings in a message released on Twitter and other social media sites.
Assuming AQIS’s claim is accurate, the murders are the latest in an orchestrated campaign against men accused of offending the Islamic faith and spreading supposedly immoral behaviors. More than one dozen victims have been killed or wounded in the assaults since 2013. AQIS previously said that the killings were authorized by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri.
The assassinations demonstrate how al Qaeda is attempting to market its draconian version of the Islamic faith. AQIS even tries to claim the moral high ground after butchering innocent men.
Mannan was the founder of a LGBT magazine in Bangladesh and worked for the US Embassy there for eight years before joining USAID. He and his friend, Samir Mahbub Tonoy, were specifically targeted by AQIS for their LGBT activism.
“By the grace of Almighty Allah, the mujahidin of Ansar al-Islam (AQIS, Bangladesh branch) were able to assassin [sic] Xulhaz Mannan and his associate Samir Mahbub Tonoy,” the group’s claim of responsibility reads. The English version of the message, which was released in multiple languages, can be seen on the right.
“They were pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh,” the AQIS statement continues. “Xulhaz Mannan was the director of Roopbaan (A cult comprised of the gays and the lesbians) while Samir Mahbub Tonoy was one of its most important activists. They were working day and night to promote homosexuality among the people of this land since 1998 with the help of their masters, the US crusaders and its Indian allies.”
The assassinations of Mannan and Tonoy are part of an ongoing, targeted campaign by AQIS, which selects specific men for death. AQIS deliberately contrasts its actions with indiscriminate acts of violence.
For example, the Ansar al Islam branch of AQIS released a statement earlier this month entitled, “Who’s Next?” In it, AQIS sets forth the criteria for its slayings. The message can be seen on the right.
The group identified its “next targets” as belonging to eight categories of people, ranging from those who have allegedly insulted Allah or the prophet Mohammed to those “who oppose the Islamic Shariah [law] by their talks or writings or show insolence towards it or insult it.”
Mannan and Tonoy may have been marked for death because AQIS included them in the seventh category. It reads: “Those who are engaged in spreading nudity, obscenity and shamefulness in the Muslim society. Note that, there is a huge difference in the Islamic Shariah between doing something haram (prohibited) personally and trying to spread it in the society.”
Portraying its terror as a defense of Islam
Most of the victims targeted by AQIS thus far had allegedly insulted the religion of Islam. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent leader says attacks on ‘blasphemers’ ordered by Zawahiri.]
In May 2015, AQIS leader Asim Umar, claimed responsibility for the murders of six people who were supposedly “blasphemers.” Umar claimed that his jihadists were responsible for killing Rajib Haider (a blogger murdered in February 2013), Muhammad Shakil Auj (who was the dean of Islamic Studies at the University of Karachi when he was shot in September 2014), Shafiul Islam (a professor at Rajshahi University who was killed in September 2014), Aniqa Naz (a Pakistani blogger), Avijit Roy (a prominent atheist blogger hacked to death in February 2015) and Washiqur Rahman (a blogger who was killed in March 2015).
“Praise be to Allah, these assassinations are part of a series of operations initiated by the different branches of al Qaeda on the orders of our respected leader Sheikh Ayman al Zawahiri (may Allah protect him),” Umar said in the May 2015 video. “It is equally part of our commitment to fulfill the oath of Sheikh Osama [bin Laden] (may Allah have mercy on him).”
Umar connected the series of murders to other terrorist attacks, including the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris in January 2015. The jihadists “have taught a lesson to blasphemers in France, Denmark, Pakistan and now in Bangladesh,” Umar claimed. He said al Qaeda’s assassination campaign is part of the “same war…whether it is fought with drones [in northern Pakistan] or with the cursed pens of Charlie Hebdo.”
AQIS claimed responsibility for additional killings and attempted murders in the months that followed Umar’s message. In January, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) posted an infographic online (seen on the right) in which several other attacks were claimed.
Earlier this month, AQIS said its men were responsible for the death of Nazimuddin Samad, whom the jihadists accused of mocking Allah on Facebook.
Supporters of the Islamic State have lashed out at individuals as well. Rezaul Karim Siddique, a university professor, was hacked to death earlier this week. Amaq News Agency, a propaganda arm of the Islamic State, said Siddique was killed because he was “calling to atheism in the city of Rajshahi in Bangladesh.” However, the professor’s family denied that he was an atheist.
AQIS claims that its victims are chosen with precision. “We are not targeting every atheist bloggers [sic],” the organization’s targeting criteria reads. “We don’t have problem [sic] with other religions or beliefs but we will not tolerate anyone insulting [the] prophet Muhammad. We are targeting those who are insulting our Prophet in the name of Atheism, Free Speech or Free Thinking.”
And the jihadists are now targeting LGBT activists as well.
Police officials in Dhaka say that previous AQIS claims were proven to be fake. But if they are right, then this would mean that roving bans of murderers have randomly and repeatedly targeted prominent commentators and activists in the same manner with machetes and knives. Although some of AQIS’ statements may be inaccurate, it is reasonable to assume that the jihadists are targeting victims just as they say.