Bangladeshi court has sentenced six members of an Islamist militant group to death on Tuesday for the brutal killing of two gay rights activists five years ago.
In April 2016, Xulhaz Mannan, 35, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, 25, were hacked to death in Mannan’s residence in Dhaka, in an incident claimed by Ansar Al Islam, al Qaeda’s regional arm.
Rabbi was a film actor and Mannan was the editor of Bangladesh’s first magazine for gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people.
The assassinations were part of a wave of attacks on atheist bloggers, intellectuals, and other minorities that stunned the 170 million-strong South Asian nation, prompting many to flee or go into hiding.
Six of the eight suspects in the case were found guilty of murder and condemned to death, according to public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan.
The six were also found guilty of belonging to a terrorist organization, the al Qaeda-inspired domestic militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team, by the Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal.
Khan claimed that the police suspected the organization of assassinating more than a dozen secular activists and bloggers.
Nazrul Islam, the men’s lawyer, said they would appeal their sentences.
According to Khan, two other defendants who are on the run and were tried in their absence were acquitted by the panel.
Syed Ziaul Haq, a dismissed army major who is suspected of being the group’s head and masterminding the killings, is one of them.
Between 2013 and 2016, Islamic State or al Qaeda-affiliated groups claimed responsibility for a slew of attacks on secular activists and religious minorities.
The most catastrophic attack occurred in July 2016, when gunmen stormed a cafe in Dhaka’s diplomatic district, killing 22 people, the majority of whom were foreigners.
Following the cafe siege, the government cracked down on Islamist groups, killing over 100 alleged militants and arresting hundreds more.