Dhaka: In its first such attack targeted at the Hindu community, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) today claimed to have murdered a 50-year-old head priest at a Hindu temple in Bangladesh in an area bordering India.
Identified as Jagneshwar Roy, the priest has been claimed to have been brutally killed at Sonapota village yesterday in a pre-dawn attack in northern Panchagarh district's Deviganj Upazila.
A statement issued by the dreaded terror group, which was published by an US based private SITE Intelligence Group, mentions, “In a security operation, soldiers of the Caliphate liquidated the priest - the founder and head of the Deviganj temple that belongs to the Hindus.”
"One of his companions was hurt after being targeted with light weapons in the area of Panchagar in Northern Bangladesh, and the Mujahideen returned to their positions unharmed," it further added.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online jihadi activity, said that the ISIS claimed responsibility for killing Roy in a communique posted by the IS-linked Amaq News Agency on Twitter. The claim could not be independently verified.
Motorbike-borne assailants, said to be over three in number, pelted stones at the house of Roy in the premises of the Santagourhiyo Temple which prompted him to come out following which the killers pounced on him and slit his throat, according to a devotee in the neighbourhood.
Roy, who founded the temple in 1998 and served as its principal and chief priest since then, was preparing for the morning prayers when stones were hurled at the temple. A blood-stained cleaver was recovered from the spot, authorities said, adding that the motive for the killing was not clear.
A probe was launched into the attack to nab the assassins who fled the scene on a motorbike, firing gunshots and hurling crude bombs to avoid being chased, injuring two including a neighbour who had rushed to the spot to save Roy.
His murder is the first attack on a Hindu priest and the fifth assault on minority religious communities including Shia Muslims and liberal Sufi preachers in the past six months by suspected Islamists.
Hindus make the Sunni-majority country's largest minority with nearly 10 per cent of the total population of 160 million.
However, a senior police officer overseeing the investigation questioned the authenticity of the ISIS claim and said the initial investigation found that the banned Jamaatul Mujahideeen Bangladesh (JMB) and fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami could be linked to the murder.
"In the past several cases of such clandestine murders, we heard about the IS involvement, but our investigations found those claims to be unfounded... rather locally brewed militant or Islamist groups were found to be directly involved in the killings," the officer told PTI requesting anonymity.
Panchagargh's police chief Giasuddin Ahmed also questioned the ISIS claim, saying "the statement issued in the name of Islamic State is entirely bogus".
Officer-in-charge of Debiganj police station in Panchagargh Babul Akhtar told reporters that in an overnight raid, police arrested two suspected JMB operatives and an activist of Jamaat's student wing suspecting their links to the murder.
Bangladesh Puja Udkapan Parishad, a major forum of Hindus in the country, and Hindu-Buddhist-Christian Unity Council condemned the incident and demanded the culprits be exposed to justice in quickest possible time.
People of different strata of society today staged a street protest forming a human chain in Panchagargh with similar demands.
Systematic assaults in Bangladesh over the last five months have killed nine persons including two foreigners besides wounding nearly 100 others.
Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella was killed by unidentified assailants in Dhaka in September and five days later, Japanese farmer Kunio Hoshi was murdered. Both attacks were claimed by Islamic State-affiliated militants.
Also, moderate Sufi saint Khizir Khan, progressive book publisher Faisal Arefin Dipon, and a Sufi shrine worker were murdered while two Christian pastors, one an Italian doctor, narrowly escaped attacks.
The SITE had earlier reported that ISIS claimed responsibility for the murder of Hoshi at Rangpur, the attack on a Shia mosque in Bogra and another on a Shia procession in Dhaka.
But law-enforcing agencies and the government had dismissed the claim, saying the Middle-East-based radical group had no presence in Bangladesh.
(With PTI inputs)