In an assault that bears the hallmarks of militant attacks, unidentified assailants hacked a local staff member of the USAID and his friend in a flat in Dhaka's Kalabagan yesterday, police said.
The USAID staff, Xulhaz Mannan, also worked as a protocol officer of former US ambassador Dan Mozena for a long time. His friend was identified as Mahbub Tonoy, 26, a private university.
Xulhaz, 35, was an editor of “Roopbaan,” the country's only known magazine for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
His mother and a house help was in the house when the murders happened around 5 pm, but it was not clear if they were in the same room.
The assailants also hacked and wounded Assistant Sub-inspector Momtaz who tried to nab the attackers on Dolphiner Goli, some 300 yards of the building.
The group of six-seven assailants also hacked a security guard of the building, Parvez Mollah. He is undergoing treatment at Dhaka Medical College Hospital with stab wounds above his left eye and in the left arm.
The killing mission lasted about five minutes, and the machete-wielding assailants chanted “Allahu Akbar” while hacking the two and also while leaving the scene, said neighbours. One of the attackers changed his blood-stained blue shirt and then wore a white one.
“We suspect militants are involved in the killings,” Mohammed Iqbal, officer-in-charge of Kalabagan Police Station, told The Daily Star.
But Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia said they were investigating it and that they would be able to say if it was a militant attack only after the probe completed.
But he said it was targeted and preplanned killings.
After visiting the scene, he also claimed to have seized a mobile phone, a bag and some other items left behind by the assailants.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat has condemned the murders and urged the government to apprehend the criminals behind these murders.
“I am devastated by the brutal murder of Xulhaz Mannan and another young Bangladeshi this evening in Dhaka,” Bernicat said in a statement.
“Xulhaz was more than a colleague to those of us fortunate to work with him at the U.S. Embassy. He was a dear friend. Our prayers are with Xulhaz, the other victim, and those injured in the attack.
“We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the Government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders,” she said.
The attack comes only hours after Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal boasted about the security situation in the country and said it was better than in many other countries.
It also comes just two days after the murder of Rajshahi University teacher Rezaul Karim Siddiquee in the northern city. According to US-based SITE Intelligence Group, international militant outfit Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murder.
Xulhaz was also behind an annual Rainbow Rally, which is being held on April 14, the Bangla New Year, since 2014.
But police this year banned the rally as part of security measures.
Ahead of the banned rally earlier this month, Xulhaz told AFP that they had received threats from Islamists, who posted messages online.
“They have even set up an online group to threaten us,” he had said.
Parvez, the injured security guard, told reporters at the DMCH that three young men dressed identically approached the gate of the seven-storey building and identifying themselves as employees of a courier service, they said they wanted to deliver two packages to Xulhaz.
Asking them to wait, Parvez went upstairs to ask Xulhaz whether he was expecting any deliveries.
Just as Xulhaz was telling Parvez that he was not expecting any parcel, the three youths forcibly entered the apartment.
They attacked Parvez when he tried to stop them from entering.
An injured Parvez then ran downstairs to call for help. Neighbours rushed to the flat and found the two lying in a pool of blood.
Alamgir Hossain, a neighbour, said: “An elderly woman was crying in a feeble voice: please take my son to a hospital.”