May 2, 2016 at 4:51 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
U.S. assisting Bangladeshis ‘under immediate threat’ of attack

Xulhaz Mannan, gay news, Washington Blade

Xulhaz Mannan (Photo courtesy of Bangladesh Against Homophobia)

The U.S. is offering assistance to Bangladeshis “under immediate threat” in the wake of the murders of two prominent LGBT rights activists in the country.

State Department spokesperson Julia Mason told the Washington Blade on Monday that the U.S. — along with other governments and non-governmental organizations — “has already assisted, or is in the process of assisting, numerous individuals we believe are under immediate threat.”

“This includes, in some instances, relocating them and their families to safer locations and providing medical assistance or dependent support,” said Mason. “We will continue doing so moving forward.”

A group of men linked to Ansar al-Islam, the Bangladeshi branch of al-Qaida, hacked Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar to death inside an apartment building in the country’s capital of Dhaka on April 25.

Mannan — who worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development — launched Roopbaan, the country’s first LGBT magazine that shares its name with a Bangladeshi advocacy group, in 2014.

The murders of Mannan and Mojumdar took place two days after members of the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the hacking death of Rezaul Karim Siddique, a university professor, in the northwestern part of the country.

The Sunni militant group has also claimed responsibility for the hacking death of Nikhil Joarder, a Hindu tailor who faced a blasphemy charge in 2012 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Islamists in Bangladesh have killed nearly two dozen other members of religious minority groups and secular academics, writers and bloggers since early 2015.

A member of the Bangladeshi LGBT community who was inside the apartment building when the attack against Mannan and Mojumdar took place told the Blade on Monday that the murders sent a “clear message” to the country’s activists.

“They are going to kill them one-by-one,” said the LGBT Bangladeshi, who asked the Blade not to publish their name because of security concerns. “They started by targeting Xulhaz Mannan.”

Mason did not specify to the Blade whether the U.S. has specifically offered assistance to Bangladeshi LGBT rights advocates in the wake of the murders of Mannan and Mojumdar. Michelle Kissenkoetter, director of the International Federation for Human Rights’ Asia Bureau, said during a telephone interview from Paris last week that foreign diplomats in Dhaka have offered support to local activists.

State Department: ‘We have raised our concerns’

Secretary of State John Kerry told Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during an April 28 telephone call that the U.S. would offer “support for the investigation” into the murders of Mannan and Mojumdar.

The State Department said that Kerry condemned “other incidents in a recent spate of violence” in Bangladesh. He also urged Hasina “to ensure a thorough investigation of all of these incidents, and to redouble law enforcement efforts to prevent future attacks and protect those who are at risk.”

“We have raised our concerns over recent problems there,” State Department spokesperson John Kirby told the Blade on Monday during his daily press briefing. “We’re going to continue to do that.”

“We’re watching this very closely and we’re in touch,” he added.

Kissenkoetter and other human rights advocates with whom the Blade has spoken in recent days said the Bangladeshi government has done nothing to address the murders of academics, writers, bloggers and religious minorities. They are equally as doubtful that the authorities will thoroughly investigate the murders of Mannan and Mojumdar.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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