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Bangladeshi Authorities Probe Campaign To Silence Bloggers


And I'm Steve Inskeep with a fuller picture of who is killing bloggers in Bangladesh. Numerous writers, as well as foreigners, have been killed in that country in recent years. New York Times correspondent Geeta Anand has been talking with authorities who've been investigating the killings. We've reached her by Skype. Welcome to the program.

GEETA ANAND: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Who exactly are the victims in Bangladesh?

ANAND: The victims have changed over time. Initially, they were bloggers who were writing columns that were critical of Islam. Over time, they've evolved. And now they're also killing gay activists, people who follow a more liberal form of Islam, foreigners, other members of minority groups like Hindus and Christians, even police officers.

INSKEEP: So what we have here is what looks like a campaign against a pluralistic society. Now, haven't there been numerous groups that have claimed responsibility for this, even including ISIS?

ANAND: That's true. ISIS and al-Qaida have claimed responsibility. There are local groups that the police believe are involved. They say that they aspire to be affiliated with ISIS and al-Qaida. But there isn't clarity on whether they really are affiliated with the international groups.

INSKEEP: OK. What clarity is there on who these groups are?

ANAND: Well, there's one group called the Jama'at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh. That's a group carrying out killings in the north. This is a group that's locally organized and let's its local cells pick its targets. So that means that often people in Dhaka, the capital, have never heard of these people who are targets because they've been chosen by people who live in the communities who decided that, for example, a homeopathic doctor who loves Baul music, a liberal form of music, is an enemy.

The other group is Ansar al-Islam. And that's the group that started all of this by targeting atheistic bloggers. That group is more strategic and focused on killing people that they think the public might support.

INSKEEP: Now, what evidence points at these groups? For example, how many people have been arrested?

ANAND: Dozens of people have been arrested. The people arrested are the people who have killed someone, usually on a street corner with an ax, and are running down the street or are on motorcycles fleeing the scene. And slowly police have been able to arrest these people's bosses and through that, try to identify the leaders. It's been tough because the killers on the street often don't know the real names of their leaders.

INSKEEP: How has this string of killings and the investigation affected Bangladeshi society?

ANAND: Bangladesh's intellectuals are terrified. Twenty-five friends of the gay activist who was killed earlier this year are in hiding. Dozens of bloggers have fled the country. And the few that remain barely leave their houses.

On the other hand, the population of Bangladesh appears to have gotten more fundamentalist over the last few decades. And these people seem to think that at least Ansar al-Islam, one of the groups, is not doing the wrong thing. They actually side with the militants.

INSKEEP: What is at stake here, then, for this country, which we can forget is one of the more populous countries in the entire world?

ANAND: What is at stake is its secular culture. Bangladeshis, for the most part, have prided themselves on a liberal culture that loves writing and music, that identifies itself by its Bengali culture rather than solely because the population is Muslim. That's at stake. There's always been both types of people in Bangladesh. Some fundamentalist and some more liberals. And whether that secular string can survive and thrive is the question.

INSKEEP: That's Geeta Anand of The New York Times, who's now back in Mumbai, India, after reporting in Bangladesh. Thanks very much.

ANAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.