A forensic team inspects the body of Mahmuda Khanam Mitu, wife of Babul Akter, superintendent and deputy commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police, in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  (European Pressphoto Agemcy)

The circle of targets for Bangladeshi extremists keeps widening.

Up until last year, their gruesome attacks seemed focused on secular bloggers who had spoken out against Islam. Recently, however, numerous academics, publishers, activists, foreign workers and non-Muslims have been hacked or fatally shot for allegedly insulting Islam. The police have clearly struggled to stem the wave of violence. On Sunday, suspected extremists killed Mahmuda Khanam Mitu, 30, the wife of the police superintendent in Bangladesh’s second-biggest city.

She was stabbed nine times and shot in the head while walking her son to his school bus stop. At least three assailants escaped on a motorbike. Mitu is only the second woman to be killed by extremists in the same fashion as the other recent attacks.

Her husband, Babul Akter, was recently promoted to his new role after leading a slew of raids against banned Islamist extremist groups, such as Jamaat ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh. Police officials told the Associated Press that they couldn’t rule out that members of any of the groups Akter had fought against had carried out the killing.

Also Sunday, a 60-year-old Christian man, identified as Sunil Gomes, was hacked to death at a shop he owned in Natore, in the north of the country. The Islamic State’s news agency, Amaq, asserted that the group was responsible for his death. The Islamic State has claimed at least two other killings.


The young son of Mahmuda Khanam Mitu, the wife of a top Bangladeshi anti-terrorism officer, mourns after she was killed near her home in Chittagong, Bangladesh. (Getty Images)

Bangladesh has been shaken by increasing religious tension as extremist groups gain sway. Besides the spate of attacks on individuals, extremist groups have bombed Shiite shrines in a characteristic attempt to foment sectarian violence.

A debate over whether Bangladesh should have a secular or Islamic government has defined the country’s politics since its birth after an independence war against Pakistan in 1971. The current government is secular and has spearheaded controversial prosecutions of Islamist figures for war crimes during the 1971 war, enraging many of the country’s fundamentalists. But although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asserted her commitment to secular values, she has been hesitant to speak out in support of the secular and atheist bloggers killed or injured in attacks. In an interview with Time magazine in 2015, she said, “Personally, I don’t support it, I don’t accept it. Why not? You have to have your faith. If anybody thinks they have no religion, okay, it’s their personal view. … But they have no right to write or speak against any religion.”

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The Islamic State and Islamic fundamentalism on the rise in Bangladesh