Two Islamist militants convicted of killing Avijit Roy, an American blogger critical of Islamic fundamentalism, and his Bangladeshi publisher, escaped from a crowded court in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, Sunday.
Suspected members of the al-Qaida-inspired local militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team, or ABT, sprayed toxic chemicals into the eyes of police officers and whisked away the convicts on motorcycles as they were leaving an anti-terrorism tribunal, Harun Ur Rashid, chief of the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said.
“Men came on bikes, and they sped away taking along the two convicts, after spraying some toxic substance,” Rashid said. “Strict security measures are usually maintained when the militants are brought to court. Sunday’s incident was unexpected. We have set up an inquiry to find out what went wrong that day.”
A CCTV video clip from a Sunday broadcast on television channels showed three men fleeing on a motorbike, followed by one rider on another bike. The two riders on the first motorbike were the two escaped death row prisoners, police said.
After analyzing the CCTV footage, the investigating officers reported Tuesday that at least 10 members of ABT used eight motorbikes during their action Sunday.
“We have launched a hunt for the escaped convicts. Special police check posts have been set up across the country,” police officer Rashid added. “Red alerts have been sent to border checkpoints. We are hopeful that we will be able to arrest the escaped convicts and those who helped them escape, and all will be brought to justice.”
The police authority has also announced a reward of $19,450 (two million takas) for anyone providing information to trace the convicts.
Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. citizen and secular blogger, was hacked to death with an axe in Dhaka, in February 2015. In October of that year, Faisal Arefin Dipan, one of Roy’s publishers, was also hacked to death. The Islamist militant group ABT claimed responsibility for both killings.
In February last year, an anti-terrorism special tribunal in Dhaka sentenced eight ABT militants, including Moinul Hasan Shamim and Abu Siddiq Sohel, the two who escaped from the court Sunday, for killing Dipan.
A week later (in February 2021), six members of ABT were convicted for Roy’s murder. Five of the militants, including Sohel and sacked army major Syed Ziaul Haque — who was accused of leading the assailants — were handed out death sentences. One was sentenced to life in prison.
Between 2013 and 2016, a series of deadly attacks violently targeted atheist bloggers and other secular activists. Domestic militant groups aligned with Islamic State and al-Qaida claimed responsibility for those attacks. Around half a dozen of them, including Roy, were murdered by the militants and dozens of others fled the country, scared for their lives.
In December 2021, the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, through its Rewards for Justice [RFJ] office announced a reward of up to US$ 5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of anyone involved in the killing of Roy. Haque and another militant convicted in the case still remain at-large.