On a recent evening in a Midwestern US city, a middle-aged woman with bandaged arms and a missing thumb entered a crowded restaurant. Nearby, children colored with crayons. Waiters rushed by.
The maimed woman, Rafida Ahmed, scanned the room nervously. The Atlanta financial executive has been hiding since Islamic militants wielding machetes attacked her on Feb. 26 in her native Bangladesh.
During the assault, her husband – the Bangladeshi-American secular activist and blogger Avijit Roy – was hacked to death. Ahmed sustained four head wounds, and her left thumb was sliced off. On May 3, the Indian-born head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent claimed responsibility for a string attacks in Bangladesh and Pakistan, including Roy`s.
The murder of Roy, an atheist who published a popular and provocative blog, marks an escalation by Islamist militants for control of Bangladesh. Religious fundamentalists are competing daily with secular government officials for power in the majority-Muslim country, one of the world’s largest and poorest democracies.
In her first extensive interview since the attack, Ahmed criticized the Bangladeshi government for not responding more aggressively to her husband’s slaying.
“This was well planned, choreographed – a global act of terrorism,” she said. “But what almost bothers me more is that no one from the Bangladesh government has reached out to me. It’s as if I don’t exist, and they are afraid of the extremists. Is Bangladesh going to be the next Pakistan or Afghanistan?”“WALKING A FINE LINE”
In an interview, Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said his mother offered private condolences to Roy’s father. But the political situation in Bangladesh is too volatile for her to comment publicly, he said. Roy was an avowed atheist; the book he was promoting when he was killed is titled “The Virus of Faith.”
“We are walking a fine line here,” said Wazed, an informal consultant for the ruling party, the Awami League. “We don’t want to be seen as atheists. It doesn’t change our core beliefs. We believe in secularism,” he said. “But given that our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we can’t come out strongly for him. It’s about perception, not about reality.”
A spokesman at the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington said he did not know why no one from his government had yet to contact Ahmed, who, like her late husband, is a dual Bangladeshi-U.S. citizen.
“We are shocked at the killing of Avijit Roy and have taken all measures to find the culprits responsible for this heinous act,” said spokesman Shamim Ahmad. “Bangladesh is committed to fighting and ending extremism in all its forms.”