Assailants hacked to death an American secular writer and blogger of Bangladeshi origin and seriously wounded his wife outside a book fair in Dhaka, the South Asian nation’s capital, officials said Friday.
Avijit Roy, 42, a champion of liberalism and outspoken critic of Islamists, was repeatedly stabbed Thursday night by at least two attackers at the Dhaka University campus. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonya, was hospitalized with multiple wounds.
An Islamist group calling itself Ansar Bangla-7 claimed responsibility for the attack in a series of Twitter postings, saying Roy “was a target for more than 3/4 years” for his writings that it characterized as being critical of Islam. The group’s Twitter account was later disabled.
No immediate arrests were made, police said.
Roy, who had traveled from his home in the Atlanta area to Dhaka for a visit two weeks ago, was the latest secular writer to come under attack by Islamists in Bangladesh. A software engineer by profession, Roy was known for advocating human rights and the rights of atheists, which had put him in the cross-hairs of extremist groups in the conservative Muslim nation.
The author of several books and founder of the website Mukto-mona, which means “free mind” in Bengali, Roy was the target of frequent death threats, his friends said.
Sirajul Islam, the officer in charge at the Shahbag police station, where Roy’s father reported the attack, said two bloodstained butcher knives and a shoulder bag were recovered at the scene. Handles of the butcher knives were wrapped in paper, he said.
The attack occurred on a sidewalk outside the Teachers-Students Center on the university campus about 9 p.m., authorities said. At least two people attacked Roy from behind, slashing his head. They attacked his wife when she tried to save him. Bonya, 40, suffered head wounds and lost a finger, Islam said.
Roy and Bonya were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where Roy died about 10:20 p.m., officials said. Bonya, a writer and blogger, was listed in serious condition.
Witnesses said police officers and others were nearby when the attack occurred but did not attempt to intervene, despite Bonya’s screams for help.
Roy, son of professor Ajay Roy, who taught physics at Dhaka University, moved to the U.S. in 2007, gained citizenship and had worked as a software engineer in the Atlanta area.
On Friday, satellite news trucks lined up outside the Roys' two-story brick home in the Bethany Creek subdivision in Alpharetta, Ga., 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta.
Old copies of the local Milton Herald newspaper lay in the Roys' driveway. Two pairs of high heels, men's boots and a pair of scrunched-up socks sat on the polished wooden floor of the hallway.
“I'm still in a state of shock,” said Krish Lakshminarayanan, 41, a self-employed IT consultant from India, who lives two doors down. “In this country we have freedom of speech. It's a terrible thing to find out our neighbor went to a book fair and was murdered in the middle of the street.”
Lakshminarayanan said he did not know the Roys well, even though they had been neighbors for more than five years. “I had no idea Mr. Roy was a blogger,” he said. “I didn't even know they had gone to Bangladesh. He was very quiet and kept to himself.”
Roy wrote of the dangers he faced in a recent article for Free Inquiry, a magazine published by the U.S.-based Council for Secular Humanism. Prominent Islamist extremists threatened publicly to kill him last year after the publication of his book “Biswasher Virus,” Bengali for “virus of faith.”
Discussing the subject of his book, Roy wrote in the magazine that the “virus of religion” had inspired the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and the January killings targeting the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris.
“Faith-based terrorisms are nothing but viruses — if allowed to spread, they will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions,” Roy wrote.
S.M. Shibli Noman, an assistant police commissioner, said the attack bore the hallmarks of assaults linked to Islamist militants. “Whoever they are, we'll trace them,” he said.
Roy had flown to Bangladesh on Feb. 16 to attend the annual Ekushey Book Fair and planned to return to the U.S. on March 4, said his younger brother, Anujit Roy.
Last year, Rakamari.com, an online bookstore, removed Roy’s books from its list because of threats by Shafiur Rahman Farabi, a fundamentalist blogger.
Farabi was arrested for posting comments on his Facebook page supporting the killing of blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was slain in Mirpur in February 2013. Farabi was later released on bail.
In a Facebook post last year, Farabi wrote, “Avijit Roy lives in America and so, it is not possible to kill him right now. But he will be murdered when he comes back.”
The attack on Roy was similar to the assaults on Haider, blogger Asif Mohiuddin and Dhaka University professor Humayun Azad, according to blogger Koushik Ahmed.
Azad was attacked by assailants in 2004 as he was leaving the same book fair at which Roy was attacked. Azad later died in Germany while undergoing treatment for his wounds.
The literary group PEN International said in a statement that it was “appalled” by Roy’s killing.
“PEN is alarmed at the ongoing pattern of violence against writers and journalists in Bangladesh, who appear to be targeted with impunity solely for the peaceful expression of their views, and calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that the necessary measures are taken to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the group said.
Special correspondent Kader reported from Dhaka and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India. Special correspondent Jenny Jarvie in Alpharetta contributed to this report.