Media disagree on role of Bangladeshi murder suspect

Shariful Islam Shihab (Photo courtesy of DailyStar.net)
Shariful Islam Shihab (Photo courtesy of DailyStar.net)

Western media and local Bangladeshi newspapers gave distinctly different accounts of the May 14 arrest of an Islamic extremist in connection with last month’s machete deaths of two LGBT activists in Bangladesh.

The Associated Press and the BBC played up the alleged role of the suspect, Shariful Islam Shihab. He was arrested “for his alleged involvement in the killing,” according to the Associated Press, and was arrested “over the killing,” according to the BBC. The AP article quoted Munirul Islam, head of a police counterterrorism unit in Bangladesh, as saying:

“Shihab allegedly killed Xulhaz Mannan, who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, because he was a gay rights activist and promoted the gay community’s cause through a magazine as an editor.

In contrast, the Bangladeshi Daily Star reported police as saying that Shibab “supplied the homemade gun, one of the two firearms left behind by the killers in a bag while fleeing the scene.” But “he did not admit to being any of the five people who directly took part in the killing” in the Kalabagan district of Dhaka.

The Bangladeshi Prothom Alo reported that, during a court hearing, Shibab “said he was in Kushtia [more than 130 kilometers away] before and after the Kalabagan double murder incident. However, he said he had bought a firearm one year ago and gave it to one Zunaiyed, one of his relatives, which was recovered from the murder scene.”

The court granted police the right to detain Shibab for three days in order to interrogate him, rather than the 10 days that police requested.

Shibab is reportedly a member of the militant Ansarullah Bangla Team and a former member of the banned Harkatul Jihad — both of which are extremist Islamic groups with at least some links to al-Qaeda.

Murder victim Xulhaz Mannan, who identified as a gay man, was an employee of USAID as well as the editor of Roopbaan, the country’s first LGBT magazine. He was also an organizer of the Rainbow Rally, which was held as part of Bengali New Year celebrations in 2014 and 2015 to promote greater acceptance of LGBT communities in Bangladesh.

Murder victim Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy / Tonoy Mojumdar / Khandoker Mahbub Rabby Tonoy, who reportedly identified as pansexual and non-binary, was an actor and LGBTIQ rights activist.

They were the latest murder victims linked to Islamic extremists in Bangladesh. As CNN reported:

In the last 14 months, at least six atheist bloggers and secular writers and editors have been hacked to death, sometimes in public places.

Last August, police in Bangladesh arrested three suspected members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, one of them a British citizen, in connection with the killings of Avijit Roy and Anant Bijoy Das, two prominent bloggers.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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