Bangladesh church vandalised; priest says religion was not a motive

A Catholic church in Bangladesh has been attacked and looted but the parish priest has refused to attribute a religious motive to the violence.

A boy waves a Bangladesh flag before a mass funeral for Rajib Haider, an architect and blogger who was murdered.Reuters

Around 15 armed men vandalised the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and its adjacent convent in Chuadanga, southwestern Bangladesh, over the weekend. Over $8,000 was taken from the site in addition to phones and other valuables, according to ucanews

The attackers also violently assaulted a church security guard and a nun who refused to let them into the chapel.

"They vandalized the convent's chapel and desecrated the Eucharist from the tabernacle," said Father Naren Baidya, a priest who visited the scene. Around 350,000 taka ($4,487) was taken from the priest's residence and 300,000 taka ($3,846) from the convent.

However parish priest Father Arun Halsona denied the attack was religiously motivated, despite escalating violence in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

"This is a robber-infested area. Three years ago, a gang tried to break into the church but failed as police quickly arrived. We think the same group has been involved in this crime," Father Halsona said.

"A robbery case has been filed and we are looking for culprits. So far we have not been able to trace and arrest anyone yet," said Liaqat Ali, officer in-charge of the local Damurhuda police station.

Attacks by Islamist groups in Bangladesh have risen with a number of atheist bloggers killed in the past year.

In December two former students were sentenced to death for murdering Rajib Haider, an architect and blogger, who was hacked to death near his house in the capital, Dhaka, in February 2013. Haider had led a popular movement demanding the death penalty for Islamist leaders accused of atrocities in Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence.

In 2015 four more bloggers and a publisher were also killed in Bangladesh. Liberal activists, members of minority Muslim sects and other religious groups have also been targeted.