National / Crime & Legal

Pastor escapes being killed in Bangladesh days after Japanese man is murdered

AP, Kyodo

A Bangladeshi pastor has survived an attempt on his life by three men who came to his home pretending to want to learn about Christianity, police and the victim said Tuesday.

The incident follows the fatal attacks on two foreigners last week in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country that is grappling with violence claimed by hard-line Islamic groups.

In the latest attack, the pastor, Luke Sarker, 52, suffered minor injuries Monday when three men aged 25-30 attacked him with a knife at his home in the northwestern district of Pabna, said the area’s senior police official, Siddikur Rahman.

Sarker, the pastor of Faith Bible Church, said by phone that the men who attacked him had phoned him about two weeks ago and said they wanted to visit him to learn about Christianity.

After they arrived at his home on Monday, they suddenly attacked him with a knife and tried to slit his throat, Sarker said. But as he shouted, his wife came to his rescue and the men fled. Police later recovered a motorbike from outside his home.

Rahman said police have no clues yet about the identities of the three men but suspect they could be members of a fundamentalist group.

Meanwhile, authorities said they questioned four people Monday in connection with last week’s slaying of a Japanese agricultural worker described by his neighbors as a friendly farmer who occasionally joined gatherings at their village mosque.

Kunio Hoshi was shot to death by unidentified assailants in northern Bangladesh on Saturday. The government has rejected a statement by the Islamic State group claiming responsibility for the attack.

“We are questioning four people, including the rickshaw puller who was carrying him when he was killed. They are not suspects. We are just questioning them for details,” Rezaul Karim, the local police chief at Kawnia in Rangpur district, where the attack took place, said Monday in a phone interview.

Police also interviewed Hoshi’s landlord, who had helped him lease over two acres of land, Karim said. He gave no other details about the investigation.

An autopsy conducted Sunday showed that Hoshi sustained three bullet wounds — in his right shoulder, right wrist and chest, according to the doctor who led the postmortem.

Rafiqul Islam of Rangpur Medical College & Hospital’s forensic department told reporters that the autopsy team could not find any bullets lodged in the body and that he is believed to have been shot by a rifle at close range.

Neighborhood residents said Hoshi had been visiting Rangpur regularly over the last three or four years.

According to Ashraful Islam, a local representative, Hoshi began looking for land where he could cultivate grass for cattle feed a few months ago. He said Hoshi was researching high yielding varieties of cattle feed.

“He was friendly with kids and other people in the area,” he said. “He was quiet and simple.”

Islam said that while it was not clear whether Hoshi had converted, he often joined worshippers at the local mosque, especially on Fridays.

“He was very friendly with young people there. He could speak a bit of Bangla,” he said. “Local people welcomed him to their area very warmly.”

NHK reported that Hoshi, a 66-year-old farmer from Iwate Prefecture, had operated agricultural projects in that region and also near Tokyo.

The Islamic State group issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack on Hoshi, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi postings online.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

The militant group claimed responsibility for Hoshi’s death via a radio broadcast Sunday.

The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the killing of Italian aid worker Cesare Tavella last week in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.