Three men pretending they wanted to learn about Christianity attacked a Bangladeshi pastor in his home with a knife on Monday (5 October). Pastor Luke Sarker, aged 52, survived the attack with minor injuries, but in separate attacks, two foreigners were killed last week by suspected Islamist jihadists.
About two weeks ago, the men had called Pastor Sarker and asked him if they could come to visit him because they wanted to know more about Christianity. When they arrived at his home in Bangladesh’s north-western Pabna district, three men, aged 25 to 30, attacked him with a knife and attempted to slit his throat, said police official Siddikur Rahman.
Pastor Sarker’s wife and neighbours came to his rescue as he shouted. The men fled, leaving their motorbike at the house. He later received five stitches at a local hospital for his injuries, a local Christian told Barnabas.
Bangladeshi police suspect that the attackers may be members of a Muslim extremist group and on 6 October they arrested 28-year-old Obaidul Islam at his home in connection with the incident. “He is an active Shibir member, and is undergoing questioning,” said officer-in-charge Kumar Das. Islami Chhatra Shibir is linked to Jamaat-e-Islami, a hardline Islamic political party.
“The government tried to give the protection by sending the [armed] police to the local churches,” a local Christian told Barnabas. “This morning (6 October) one church has been attacked by [a] Muslim group.”
On 3 October, Kunio Hoshi, a Japanese worker, was killed in Rangpur district. An Italian Christian relief worker, Cesare Tavella, was shot dead on 28 September as three people rode alongside him on a motorbike in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh.
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for both attacks, their first in Bangladesh. The country’s government countered these claims, blaming the opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, for attempting to destabilise the country.
Violence has spiralled in recent months in this Muslim-majority country and the government has banned several groups blamed for killing four secular bloggers in the past year. Although the country’s government maintains its secular status, Islamists are gaining political strength.
While it is not illegal to convert to Christianity, converts face discrimination and attack. Family members, people in the local community and local religious leader place enormous pressure on believers to renounce their Christian faith.
Several churches were destroyed last year and in February a local mob attacked a Christian couple after they were baptised in northern Bangladesh. The incident was reported to the police, but the mob later returned to attack the Christian cell group leader who had baptised the couple.