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Bangladeshi police point to extremists in latest anti-secularism attack

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A.M. Ahad/ AP

(Read caption) Bangladeshi youth protest after the murder of Faisal Arefin Deepan, a publisher of secular books, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. Deepan was killed, and three others murdered, in a new spate of attacks by Islamist extremists this weekend against secular voices in Bangladesh.

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Police in Dhaka assured protesters that they were investigating a homegrown Islamic extremist group for a spate of attacks in Bangladesh this weekend that left one publisher dead and three more wounded.

The attacks seem to be the continuation of a year of violence against secular voices in the media – another chapter in the decades-old struggle to define the country's religious identity. 

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According to the Associated Press, Ansarullah Bangla Team is under investigation for the death of Faisal Arefin Deepan, who was killed in his office on Saturday by machete-wielding attackers. Three other writers and publishers were also wounded.

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Mr. Deepan's publishing house, Jagriti, and the Shudhdhoswar company run by another victim, Ahmed Rahim Tutul, had published the work of Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy, one of four secular writers killed in Bangladesh this year. Ansarullah Bangla Team has claimed responsibility for previous attacks, the AP reports. 

The Bangladesh branch of Al-Qaeda has also claimed responsibility for some attacks, while the Islamic State says it carried out the murders of an Italian aid worker and a Japanese national last month, a claim the Bangladeshi government disputes. 

"If your ‘Freedom of Speech’ maintains no limits, then widen your chests for ‘Freedom of our Machetes,'" al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent wrote in an August message posted on social media after the death of blogger Niloy Neel. 

On Sunday, protesters in Dhaka pressured the government to step up its efforts against extremist violence and bring the culprits to justice. 

In an interview with Time magazine, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina defended the government's efforts to investigate the murders, but added that she feels bloggers "have no right to write or speak against any religion." Secular writers "should not hurt anybody's [religious] feeling," Hasina said.  

Bangladesh was founded as a secular nation in 1971, when it won independence from Pakistan, but Islam became the state religion in the 1980s, under the rule of President Hussain Muhammad Ershad. In 2010, the Supreme Court restored secularism's place in the Constitution without addressing state religion. 

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"We won independence in 1971, but we are still fighting the long war for Bangladesh," newspaper publisher K. Anis Ahmed told the magazine in October. 

According to Pew surveys, 82 percent of Bangladeshi Muslims believe Sharia law should be written into the country's lawbooks, although 60 percent say it should only apply to Muslims.