An American atheist blogger who spoke out against religious extremism and intolerance has been hacked to death in Bangladesh.
Avijit Roy and his wife were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University on Thursday evening when they were attacked.
Witnesses told local media their bicycle rickshaw was stopped by two men who dragged them on to the pavement but police chief Sirajul Islam said the couple were ambushed as they walked towards a roadside tea stall.
Both accounts said at least two men with machetes started hacking at the couple as they lay on the ground.
The attackers then ran away, disappearing into crowds.
Mr Roy, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead during emergency surgery at the Dhaka Medical College hospital and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, lost a finger and is being treated for serious injuries.
Police found her severed finger alongside two machetes and a bag possibly belonging to the attackers at the scene, BDnews24 reported.
Hundreds of students and activists gathered in Dhaka on Friday to mourn Mr Roy's death and protest against the intimidation and murder of secular writers.
No suspects have been named but Mr Roy’s family believes that Islamic extremists are behind the murder, possibly associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
In 2013, atheist blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was hacked to death by machete-wielding militants associated with Jamaat-e-Islami in Dhaka.
A month before, prominent atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin survived a similar attack and a secular author was stabbed later that same year.
As well as the threat of violence, the government of Bangladesh has been criticised for arresting writers for “blasphemous” posts and shutting down or censoring atheist blogs in a crackdown that has sparked global protests.
Relatives said Mr Roy had received numerous threats from Islamists over his writing on religious intolerance in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
Baki Billah, a friend of Mr Roy and fellow blogger, told Independent TV: “He was a free thinker. He was a Hindu but he was not only a strong voice against Islamic fanatics but also equally against other religious fanatics.
“We are saddened. We don't know what the government will do to find the killers. We want justice.”
Mr Roy founded a popular Bengali-language blog, Mukto-mona, or Free Mind, which featured articles on scientific reasoning and religion.
The website, described as “a secular site for Bengali humanists and freethinkers” that encourages “freethinking, humanism and rationalism” has apparently been shut down since the attack.
The home page was black on Friday morning and displayed only a message in Bengali that roughly translates as "we mourn but we are not gone".
Mr Roy defended atheism in Facebook post in January, calling it “a rational concept to oppose any unscientific and irrational belief.”
Anujit Roy, his younger brother, said the writer had returned to Bangladesh earlier this month from the US and was planning to go back in March.
As well as Mukto-mona, he also wrote several books including his last works Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), which provoked controversy but were critically well-received.
His rather, Ajoy Roy, is a decorated physics professor turned human rights activist who wrote a book on LGBT rights in Bangladesh and is also a prolific secular activist in the country.
Additional reporting by AP
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies