Political violence has become routine and brutal over the last few years in Bangladesh. This year has seen the rise of a new form of killing in the country – targeted assassinations of free-thinking bloggers and writers, four of whom have been killed from February to August. But the latest killings of two foreign citizens in the past one week have sent shock waves across the country.

The first killing took place in the early hours of the evening of September 28, when three men gunned down an Italian citizen, Cesare Tavella, 51, in the ritzy Gulshan neighbourhood of the capital Dhaka, and fled on a motor-bike.

What made the hit so noteworthy was that it appeared to have been meticulously planned and executed with a great deal of efficiency and professionalism, and there remain serious unanswered questions as to how such a murder could have been committed in such a secure and well-patrolled locality.

Gulshan houses a large number of diplomats and is one of the two wealthiest zip codes in Bangladesh. Security check-points mark each possible exit and entrance to the area and it is unclear how the killers could have made a clean getaway.

Even  more mysteriously, the street lights on the road the killing took place were reportedly switched off at the time of the murder. Even though the road in question houses more than one embassy and the house of the governor of the central bank, all of which are equipped with CCTV cameras, none of them have turned up any usable evidence or information.

Striking again

The second killing took place just five days later as the country was still reeling from the aftershock of the first murder.

This time the victim was a Japanese citizen, Kunio Hoshi, 65, in a remote area of the northern district of Rangamati. He, too, was gunned down by assailants on a motor-bike, again leaving no clues behind as to who they were or what their motivation might have been.

By all accounts both men were decent, well-liked, mild mannered gentlemen, working selflessly in the development field for the betterment of Bangladesh, with no known enemies. It seems clear that they were picked at random because they were foreigners and easy targets.

Conflicting claims

So what do these killings signify, and do they mean that the Islamic State has established a beachhead in Bangladesh?

That has been the question on everyone’s lips ever since a statement emerged online in the aftermath of Tavella's killing claiming credit for the attack in the name of Islamic State.

The Bangladesh government has categorically rejected this possibility, and it should be mentioned that no evidence exists that the claim is either genuine or credible.

Which is not to say that the government’s own version of events is any more so.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is on record suggesting that the killings may well be the work of her political opponents – the Bangladesh National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami axis – as a means of discrediting the government and tarnishing the country's image.

Her claims have conveniently been buttressed by a helpful intelligence report suggesting that “anti-liberation” forces were behind the killings, with a view to derailing the ongoing  trials of people suspected to have been involved in crimes during the 1971 war for freedom and halting the impending execution of convicted war criminals.

No evidence for this theory has been shared with the public.

But whether the Islamic State is actually involved in these killings is a red herring and the wrong question to ask.

Trying to pin the killings, on the political opposition, as the government is attempting to do as with every other crime that has occurred during its tenure,  is similarly unhelpful and misses the point.

Neither here nor there

As with the claim made by Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, that they were behind the August 6 killing of blogger Niloy Chatterjee, whether the Islamic State claim is genuine or not does not really change anything.

Whether the home-grown terror outfits have links or ties with transnational terror groups is neither here nor there. What does it even mean, in operational terms, if they are affiliated or associated with the Islamic State or the Al Qaeda?

Similarly, whether the terrorists are in any way affiliated with either Bangladesh National Party or Jamaat or whether they are fully independent operators is also largely beside the point.

The salient fact remains that we have on our hands a militant Islamist organisation (or organisations) that is willing to descend to the depths of brutality to try to destabilise the government and the country, and that they have the wherewithal and organisational sophistication to do so.

The question should not be what tenuous links the killers might have with transnational terrorists or other groups with a more recognisable brand identity, but who exactly these killers are and what can be done to stop them before they strike again.

Zafar Sobhan is editor of the Dhaka Tribune, an English language daily newspaper.