Bangladesh police arrest Islamist over gay activists' killing

DHAKA (Reuters) - Police in Bangladesh have arrested a home-grown Islamist militant over the killing of two gay rights campaigners amid a surge in violent attacks against liberal activists and other minorities in the south Asian nation.

Xulhaz Mannan, 35, editor of Bangladesh’s first magazine for gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and fellow activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, 25, were killed in a apartment in the capital Dhaka late last month.

The attack was claimed by al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent.

Police, however, arrested Shariful Islam, 37, a member of the banned local militant group Ansarullah Bangla Team, in connection with the murder. The Bangladeshi government has denied that Islamic State or al Qaeda have a presence in the country.

Monirul Islam, chief of the counterterrorism unit of Dhaka Police, told a news conference on Sunday Islam was arrested in the southwestern district of Kushtia. He was brought to the news conference but did not comment.

The Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people has seen a series of attacks over the past year in which atheist bloggers, academics, religious minorities and foreign aid workers have been killed.

Islamic State militants also claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, including the killing of two foreigners late last year. But police say home-grown militant groups are behind the recent attacks.

Western security experts doubt that there are any direct operational links between Islamic State, based in the Middle East, and militants operating on the ground in Bangladesh.

In the latest attack, an elderly Buddhist monk was found hacked to death on Saturday at a temple in a remote region of southeastern Bangladesh.

Police said three people had been arrested, although they said the motive was not yet clear. Police did not say whether the three were affiliated with any Islamist group.

Reporting by Ruma Paul; editing by Clelia Oziel