Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the shooting death of an Italian man in the capital of Bangladesh, which would mark the militant group’s first attack in the South Asian nation.
Islamic State said in a statement Monday night that a “security detachment” gunned down Tavella Cesare, 50, who was working with a Dutch aid agency in Dhaka. The communique was reported by the SITE Intelligence Group, a U.S. organization that tracks militant statements.
The U.S. Embassy urged Americans in Dhaka to restrict their movements after the shooting, citing an “increased threat” against U.S. citizens and facilities, although it did not elaborate. Britain also issued a fresh warning, citing “reliable information” that militants might attempt to target Western interests in Bangladesh in late September.
Islamist extremism has been on the rise in Bangladesh, a largely poor nation of 160 million people, where authorities have banned fundamentalist groups blamed for a string of assassinations of secular writers. But this was the first time that Islamic State claimed an attack in the country, a sign of the group’s growing ambitions in South Asia.
In neighboring India, officials say that several young men have been recruited by the militant group to join its war in Iraq and Syria. In Afghanistan, fighters claiming allegiance to Islamic State have occasionally clashed with Taliban extremists, prompting fears of a turf battle that could open a new chapter in the long-running conflict there.
Bangladeshi authorities said they had no information about Islamic State involvement in the killing of Cesare, which they were treating as a murder investigation. Police official Mukhlesur Rahman told reporters that they believe Cesare was directly targeted, noting that his assailants did not take any of his possessions.
“Based on the evidence and previous experience, we could say that the murder was pre-planned,” Rahman said.
Bangladesh’s home affairs minister, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, said it was too early to comment on the claims of Islamic State involvement. He played down suggestions of an Islamic State presence in the country, saying that several alleged recruiters for the group had been arrested.
Urging foreign nationals not to fear for their security, Kamal said, “We are looking into everything that might have been the motive behind this murder.”
Police said three unidentified assailants shot Cesare at close range near the Egyptian embassy in the Gulshan diplomatic area of the capital. Onlookers loaded him into an auto-rickshaw and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead about 7:30 p.m.
Setara Begum, a street vendor in the area, said she saw three young men flee the scene.
“Immediately after the gunshots, three youths came running. … They got on a motorcycle and fled,” she said.
Cesare had arrived in Dhaka in May to work with ICCO, a Dutch agency that works on food security and other anti-poverty projects in several countries, according to an official with the group, Alo Rani Dhali.
“He never told us about any threat to his life,” Dhali said.
Kader is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Bengali reported from Ootacamund, India.