Westerners in Bangladesh on Alert After Italian’s Murder

Shahriar Sharif

2015-09-29
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150929-BD-crimescene-1000 Bangladeshi policemen guard the Dhaka crime scene where an Italian aid worker was shot dead, Sept. 29, 2015.
AFP

Updated at 11:18 a.m. ET on 2015-09-30

Bangladesh’s home minister on Tuesday described the killing of Westerner in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter the night before as an isolated incident, discounting a report that the Islamic State (IS) terror group had claimed responsibility for it.

“The claim has not been confirmed, there is no such evidence," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters in Dhaka, adding that police were investigating the claim’s veracity.

According to a report published Monday by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group website, IS claimed it had killed Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella.

The 50-year-old, who worked for the Netherlands-based Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), was gunned down in the Bangladeshi capital’s high-security diplomatic zone in Gulshan district.

There was no reason for foreigners to be concerned about their safety in Bangladesh, the minister said.

Yet some international schools and clubs in Dhaka frequented by Westerners were closed Tuesday, following the killing and safety advisories issued by the British and American embassies.

“There is reliable information that militants may be planning to target western interests in Bangladesh,” the British High Commission in Dhaka said in a statement Tuesday.

The warnings from the embassies came after Monday’s news that Australia’s cricket team was postponing an upcoming tour of Bangladesh out of fears that militants were planning to target Australian interests there.

Rare attack

The postponement embarrassed law enforcement officials, who consistently claim that they have put suspected Islamic militants on the run.

IS’s reported presence in Bangladesh is relatively small compared with other Islamist groups operating there.

In May, however, Bangladeshi police announced the arrests of two men with alleged IS links. One of the suspects, Aminul Islam Beg, was the regional coordinator of the banned Islamist group Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), and he planned to “establish a caliphate” in Bangladesh “as directed by the IS,” police said after the two were arrested.

Murders of foreigners in Bangladesh are a rare occurrence. If Islamists, in fact, were behind Tavella’s murder, he would be the first Westerner in the country slain by militants. And if IS was behind his killing, it would be the first homicide carried out by IS in Bangladesh.

In March 2012, an employee of the Saudi embassy was allegedly killed by robbers in Dhaka. In December of that year, a court convicted five suspects of the crime and sentenced them to death.

Tavella was a program manager for the ICCO focusing on food security and economic development for people living in rural Bangladesh, the Dutch NGO said Tuesday in a statement posted on its website.

“We are deeply saddened by the shocking news of the death of our dear colleague Cesare Tavella,” ICCO said.

“Cesare was a hard-working professional, committed to help the people of Bangladesh. He was respected and loved by all his team members in the country office and field offices around the country.”

An earlier version incorrectly reported that the Australian cricket team had cancelled its tour of Bangladesh.

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