One of Bangladesh’s top writers, Zafar Iqbal, was stabbed in his head during a seminar in the northern city of Sylhet on Saturday. He was soon airlifted to a hospital in Dhaka for treatment, and is now out of danger, doctors said.
Iqbal is a secular activist, a science fiction writer, and the head of the Electronic and Electrical Engineering department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet. The attack is the latest in a series of assaults on secular activists in the country.
Abdul Wahab, a spokesman for the Sylhet city police, told AFP that they suspected he was attacked with a knife. “He was in a seminar when he was attacked,” Wahab said. “His gunman caught an attacker.” Wahab was referring to the security personnel Bangladesh had provided for the country’s top secular activists since suspected extremists started targeting them.
Iqbal’s attacker, identified as Foyzur Rahman Faizul, was immediately detained by police. The police have also arrested two of his uncles, according to the Dhaka Tribune. “Faizul was a madrasa student,” Jalalabad police station Officer-in-Charge Anwarul Islam was quoted as saying. “After the attack, his [Faizur’s] family members left their residence and are currently on the run.”
Bangladesh has been hit by a spate of attacks against religious minorities, bloggers, foreigners, LGBT activists and other intellectuals since 2013. In 2016, a university professor was murdered near his home in Rajshahi, a senior editor of the country’s first LGBT magazine Roopban was hacked to death, a 70-year-old Buddhist monk was found murdered inside a monastery, and a Christian businessman and the wife of a senior policeman were killed a few hours apart in June.
Saturday’s attack was condemned by protesters in Dhaka and Sylhet. Hundreds of people gathered to protest at the Shahbagh Square in Dhaka. “It is an ominous sign. He is a guardian of progressive movement in Bangladesh. His attack is an attack against progressive Bangladesh,” one of the protesters, Imran Sarker, told AFP.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also condemned the attack, and called the attacker a fanatic. “Those who are committing these crimes are fanatics,” she was quoted as saying by The Daily Star. “We earlier decided not to allow terrorism and militancy in the country, we’re conducting drives against drug abuse as well.”