Bangladesh police arrest 3 men, including British citizen, in bloggers' murders

Authorities in Bangladesh said Tuesday that they have arrested three men, including a British citizen, for their involvement in the murders of two secular bloggers.

The three are suspected members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, a banned Islamic militant outfit, said Maj. Maksudul Alam, a spokesman for the country's Rapid Action Battalion. Bangladesh banned the group in May after police accused its members of threatening and killing bloggers and writers.

Alam said one of the arrested men, Touhidur Rahman — a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin — was the mastermind and financier of the attacks on bloggers Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, who were killed earlier this year.

The suspects were arrested Monday night in raids in Dhaka, Bangladesh's capital, and appeared with authorities at a news briefing Tuesday.

Mufti Mahmud Khan, the head of the battalion's media wing, told reporters that while Rahman was the main planner of the killings, another suspect who was arrested, Sadek Ali, acted as a bridge to communicate with Mufti Jasim Rahmani, the alleged head of the militant group. Ali, 28, became involved with Rahmani while working as a printing press worker, Khan said.

Rahmani is currently in jail awaiting trial in the murder of another blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, in Dhaka in 2013.

"Ali often visited the prison to meet Rahmani for instructions," Khan said.

He said the third suspect, 35-year-old Aminul Mollick, was a broker at a passport office and helped members of the militant group make fake passports so that they could travel abroad if necessary.

The battalion did not allow the detainees to talk to reporters at the news briefing.

Khan said Rahman, 58, is an information technology expert and returned to Bangladesh from the United Kingdom in either 2011 or 2012. He then got in touch with Rahmani, who inspired him to work for the group.

"He is the main planner of all the recent killings of the bloggers," Khan said.

During an interrogation after their arrests, Khan said, the men admitted that a team of four or five took part in the killing of Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen. The same team was involved in the attack on Das, Khan said.

Roy was a prominent voice against religious extremism and created a network of atheist bloggers at home and abroad. His wife, also a blogger, was injured in the attack, which took place as the couple walked on the campus of Dhaka University.

While Bangladesh is considered a moderate Muslim country, Islamic extremism has made some inroads, and there have been several attacks on secular bloggers and writers in recent years.

An increasing divide between the secular bloggers and Islamist groups has been visible, with bloggers calling for banning religion-based political parties that seek blasphemy laws to protect their faith in the South Asian nation, which is predominantly Muslim but ruled by secular laws based on British common law.