Expat murders linked to IS put Bangladesh on edge

Two expat murders in Bangladesh are stoking concerns that Islamic extremists may tarnish the country’s image at a time when its economy is a rare bright spot in Asia.

A Japanese investor was shot and killed in northern Bangladesh on Oct. 3, about a week after three people murdered an Italian aid worker in an area popular with diplomats in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the slayings, an assertion rejected by the government.

“This threat and insecurity currently makes foreigners think twice before they visit

Cesare Tavella, the Italian national was shot thrice, post-mortem report says. Photo: Collected
Cesare Tavella, the Italian national was shot thrice, post-mortem report says. Photo: Collected

Bangladesh,” said Daniel Seidl, a representative of the Brussels-based Foreign Trade Association in Dhaka. Despite that, he called Bangladesh a “booming manufacturing hub” where “foreigners are treated as guests.”

A spate of high-profile killings this year in the Muslim-majority nation—including at least four secular bloggers—is raising concerns that terrorism will deter investment and stunt growth even as Bangladesh stems overall violence. Australia’s cricket team canceled a trip to Bangladesh last month, and countries such as the U.S. have warned citizens to avoid large gatherings in international hotels.

“The sinister specter of extremism is yet again ‎raising its hand, and none of these incidents can be seen as isolated,” said Sajjan M. Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation think-tank. “These small cells of ideological extremists need to be‎ dismantled before they inflict more harm.”

In recent months, Bangladesh’s export-reliant economy had shown resilience in a region where China’s slowdown is hurting almost every country. The Asian Development Bank last month raised the country’s growth forecast to 6.5 percent this year, with Vietnam the only other nation to see an upgrade.

Bangladesh’s largest business group this week condemned the killings and warned that they may hurt foreign investment and exports. It also called on the government to take more steps to ensure the safety of foreigners.

“For some miscreants Bangladesh must not lose its positive image abroad,” the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Abrar A. Anwar, chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Bank Bangladesh, said the country’s economic fundamentals are strong and he’s confident in the growth outlook.

“The recent incidents are unfortunate and deplorable, and may pose as a matter of concern,” Anwar said by phone. “Foreign investors who are in Bangladesh know the ground realities, and I am sure they are looking at the situation closely whilst continuing business as usual.”

SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi networks, said on Twitter this month that Islamic State claimed credit for both murders.

‘Remarkable’ Gains

On Saturday, attackers on motorcycles shot and killed Japanese national Kunio Hoshi, who had invested in a grass cultivation project in the region of Rangpur, The Guardian reported. Last month, a gang shot and killed Cesare Tavella, who worked for a Dutch organization that seeks to eliminate poverty.

Bangladesh’s foreign minister met with diplomats to reassure them of measures to keep the country’s 224,000 foreigners safe. The police chief said that Islamic State doesn’t have an organized presence in the country.

“Anybody may personally believe in their ideology,” Inspector General of Police A.K.M. Shahidul Hoque told reporters in Dhaka on Oct. 6. “But we will not let our country become a terrorist state.”

The murders are detracting from “remarkable” gains Bangladesh has made in cracking down on terrorism and internal security threats, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. Fatalities have dropped by more than 80 percent since a surge of violence in 2013, with 37 deaths reported through Oct. 4, according to the site.

“Bangladesh has a very determined counter-terrorism organization,” Rohan Gunaratna, head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore, said by phone. “But until this Islamic State cell is neutralized, they will continue to kill.”