DHAKA (Reuters) - Five members of an Islamist militant group were sentenced to death on Tuesday by a court in Bangladesh for killing a U.S. blogger critical of religious extremism six years ago.
Avijit Roy, an engineer of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in February 2015 while returning home with his wife from a Dhaka book fair. His wife, blogger Rafida Bonya Ahmed, suffered head injuries and lost a thumb in the attack.
In all, six men were convicted of belong to the al Qaeda-inspired domestic militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team. Police say the group was behind the murders of more than a dozen secular activists and bloggers.
Syed Ziaul Haq, a sacked army major believed to be the group leader and accused of masterminding Roy’s killing, was one of two men tried in absentia, with both receiving death sentences, public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan said.
The Special Anti-Terrorism Tribunal jailed one for life.
Nazrul Islam, defence lawyer for the six men, said they would appeal against their sentences.
Roy’s widow said the verdict would not bring peace to her family, especially as Haq remained at large.
“Simply prosecuting a few foot-soldiers -- and ignoring the rise and roots of extremism -- does not mean justice for Avi’s death,” she said in a statement.
Roy, author of 10 books, had founded a popular blog, “Mukto-mona”, or “Freemind”, that highlighted humanist and rationalist ideas and condemned extremism.
Muslim-majority Bangladesh saw a string of deadly attacks between 2013 and 2016 targeting bloggers, secular activists and religious minorities, claimed by Islamic State or al Qaeda-aligned groups.
The most serious attack came in July 2016, when gunmen stormed a cafe in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka and killed 22 people, most of them foreigners.
After the cafe siege, more than 100 suspected militants were killed and hundreds more were arrested as the government cracked down on Islamist groups as it sought to preserve its image as a moderate Muslim nation.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Alison Williams
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