Two activists sentenced to death for killing US blogger escape Bangladesh court

DHAKA, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Two Islamist activists sentenced to death for the murder of a US blogger critical of religious extremism escaped from a crowded court in Dhaka, Bangladesh on Sunday.

Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-born engineer, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in February 2015 as he was returning home with his wife from a book fair in Dhaka. His wife, blogger Rafida Bonya Ahmed, suffered a head injury and lost a thumb in the attack.

Five members of an Islamist militant group were sentenced to death last year, while another was jailed for life.

Two of the death row inmates escaped on Sunday after bikers sprayed police with chemicals before removing the convicts, police said.

“A massive manhunt has been launched to capture them and their aides,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters, adding that border security officials had been put on alert to prevent the men to flee the country.

The police also announced a reward of two million taka (about $19,350) to find the convicts.

The convicted men belong to the national al-Qaeda inspired militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team and police say the group is behind the killings of more than a dozen secular activists and bloggers.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh saw a series of deadly attacks between 2013 and 2016 targeting bloggers, secular activists and religious minorities, claimed by Islamic State or al-Qaeda-aligned groups.

($1 = 103.3500 taka)

reporting by Ruma Paul; written by Tanvi Mehta; Editing by Stephen Coates

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