- Avijit Roy, 42, was attacked by machete-wielding extremists in Dhaka Thursday night after a book fair event
- Roy, a scientist from Atlanta, Georgia, was a naturalized US citizen and an active voice in Bangladeshi atheist circles
- Had written an article denouncing extremism, comparing zealots to people controlled by a disease, before he was attacked and murdered
- New York-based Center for Inquiry was due to publish the piece in April, but released it early after his death
- Police have yet to announce any leads in their hunt for the murderers, who also injured Roy’s wife, Rafida Ahmed
- Militant group Ansar Bangla 7 claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was a response for his writings
The Bangladeshi-American blogger who was hacked to death by machete-wielding Muslim extremists on his way back from a book fair had taken another stand against violent religious extremism days before his death.
Dr Avijit Roy, a scientist from Atlanta, Georgia, and a prominent atheist thinker in Bangladesh, was killed on a university campus in Dhaka on Thursday night – apparently in retaliation for criticizing religion.
But Roy, 42, who was repeatedly threatened with death over his writings, had prepared a final salvo against the forces that took his life. It was due to be published in April, but was released early in the wake of his murder.
Writing in the pages of the New York-based Center for Inquiry, Roy said: ‘For me, religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus’, comparing extremists like the Charlie Hebdo attackers, who endanger their own lives for religious principle, to animals being ruled by a disease.
He continued by saying: ‘Faith-based terrorisms are nothing but viruses – if allowed to spread, they will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions.’
Roy had expressed a similar sentiment in his latest book, published in Bengali, titled Biswasher Virus (Virus of Faith). He was leaving a book fair held on the University of Dhaka’s campus Thursday when he was jumped by at least two attackers.
They sliced through his skull with three deliberate blows, then dropped their weapons and fled. Roy’s wife, Rafida Ahmed, was also attacked, and is in hospital with a deep gash to her head.
An obscure militant group called Ansar Bangla 7 has claimed responsibility for the attacking, which it said was because of Roy’s ‘crime against Islam’. It said he was their ‘top target’ because of his US citizenship, and that they wanted to take revenge for American military action against ISIS and the Taliban.
The United States said on Friday the murder was ‘horrific in its brutality and cowardice’ – and represents an attack on the ‘principles’ of Bangladesh, which is run by a secular government.
Roy’s body was found in a pool of blood on Thursday night after the brutal attack. Ahmed, 45, is also a blogger. She is reportedly now in hospital with a deep cut to her head.
Roy, who is a naturalized US citizen and also a bio-engineer, had been receiving death threats online for years.
One Muslim fanatic, Farabi Shafiur Rahman, had reportedly posted threats on Facebook last year that Roy would be killed as soon as he returned to the country.
In his posthumous article, Roy mentioned Rahman’s threats explicitly, and said his latest book had ‘hit the cranial nerve of Islamic fundamentalists’ in the country of his birth. He later detailed how death threats had terrified an online bookstore into pulling his writings.
His article concluded that ‘the virus of faith is dangerously real.’
However, friends of Roy’s have said they doubted the ‘idealistic’ thinker seriously thought he would be attacked. Michael De Dora, who works at the Center for Inquiry, told CNN he believed reason would prevail against those who disagreed with him.
He said: ‘His understanding was that he wouldn’t be killed, that if anyone ever tried to attack him or hated him, that they could just kind of have a chat and he would convince them … that they could at least have a dialogue.’
Police in Dhaka have said the attackers likely have links to the university, but are yet to make any arrests.
Jubilant extremists writing on social media were quick to praise the attackers. The account for Ansar Bangla 7 made a post which linked the killing to Roy’s nationality – and American airstrikes on ISIS.
It said: ‘The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment.’
Khurasan refers to Afghanistan. Shaam is a term for Syria, where American airstrikes have been a major part of the fight against ISIS.
They also said he had been their ‘top target’, and tried to justify the killing by saying he ‘crossed his limit’ after being ‘warned many times’.
According to an autopsy report obtained by local site BDNews24, Roy was killed by three deep gashes, which cut through his skull to the brain.
Doctors examining Roy’s body said the attack had the hallmarks of professional killers, who acted with ‘planning, skill and brutality’.
BDNews24 reported that she had lost a finger in the attack and had a deep gash to her head.
Police are yet to arrest anybody over the killing – and said on Friday they still have no leads – though they think the killing is linked to the university.
Bangladesh News 24 quoted a police spokesman saying the murder was ‘university-centric’.
He said: ‘Those who had come to kill [Roy] with machetes were not outsiders. This is university-centric’.
Roy was of a Hindu background – a religious minority in Bangladesh which which has been historically persecuted. He is also the son of a prominent secularist and human rights activist, Ajay Roy.
He was a prominent voice against religious intolerance, who had been sent death threats over his writings.
Chief Sirajul Islam said said: ‘Several attackers took part in the attack and at least two assailants hit them directly,’ Islam said, adding that two blood-stained cleavers were found after the attack. ‘
Shilby Noman, Dhaka’s assistant police commissioner, said: ‘Nothing of note has been revealed so far.
‘But we hope that we’ll be able to arrest them and bring them to book so that this kind of crime does not take place again.’
Roy was often threatened over his writings, which appeared online, in newspapers and in several published books.
Police sources in Dhaka say that, despite the violent threats, he had never asked them for protection.
According to the Dhaka Tribune, the religious extremist Farabi Shafiur Rahman was one of those leaving threats.
He is said to have written: ‘Avijit Roy lives in America. So it’s not possible to kill him now. He will be killed as soon as he returns home.’
In a later post, he is said to have continued: ‘It’s now time to openly kill those atheists who will make obscene comments against Allah and His Messenger, giving them slow, painful death… In Bangladesh, either we Muslims will survive or the atheists will.’
The Guardian reported that he was arrested for the comments – but it is unclear whether or how soon he was released.
Roy was the founder of a popular Bengali-language blog – Mukto-mona, or Free Mind – in which articles on scientific reasoning and religious extremism featured prominently.
On its pages, Roy had recently published a defense of atheism, writing in January that it was ‘a rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief.’
The website was shut down in the wake of the attack and now displays a message in Bengali, which reads: ‘We are in mourning, but not vanquished’.
Roy has also written several books – two of which had been launched earlier in the book fair he was visiting.
Roy’s father, retired professor and secular activist Ajay Roy, called for harsh punishment of his son’s killers, and said their actions were a sign of Bangladesh’s declined.
He told reporters: ‘The Bangladesh that was earned by the blood-sacrifice of the martyrs has now turned into a den of militants.
‘I demand that the government immediately stops militant activities, vbbrings them to book and ensures exemplary punishment.’
Hundreds of students and activists gathered in Dhaka today to mourn Mr Roy’s death and protest against the intimidation and murder of secular writers.
Islam is Bangladesh’s state religion but the country is governed by secular laws based on British common law, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said she will not give in to religious extremism.
Anujit Roy, his younger brother, said Roy returned to the country earlier this month from the U.S., and headed back in March.
Baki Billah, a friend of Roy and a blogger, told Independent TV that Roy had been threatened earlier by people upset at his writing.
‘He was a free thinker. He was a Hindu but he was not only a strong voice against Islamic fanatics but also equally against other religious fanatics,’ Billah said.
‘We are saddened. We don’t know what the government will do to find the killers. We want justice,’ he said
International condemnation was also mounting over the murder.
State Department spokesman Jen Psaki addressed the killing in a briefing today. She said: ‘The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal murder of Avijit Roy, which was horrific in its brutality and cowardice.
‘He was a journalist a humanist a husband and a friend and we extend our condolence. He was taken from us in a shocking act of violence.
‘This was not just an attack against a person, but a cowardly assault on the universal principles enshrined in Bangladesh’s constitution and the country’s proud tradition of free, intellectual and religious discourse’.
She said the U.S. embassy would help Bangladeshi authorities if asked – but refused to comment on possible reasons for the killing.
Representatives of the European Union in Dhaka said: ‘The Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh condemns the brutal assault and killing of blogger Avijit Roy and wounding of his wife last night in Dhaka.
‘The EU reiterates its strong attachment to freedom of expression which constitutes an essential element of a democratic society and calls for a prompt investigation to bring perpetrators to justice.’
Meanwhile Robert Gibson, the British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, said on Twitter he was: ‘Shocked by the savage murder of #AvijitRoy as I am by all the #violence that has taken place in #Bangladesh in recent months’.
Similar attacks have taken place before in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people ruled by secular laws. Investigators have said religious fanatics were behind those attacks.