DHAKA, Bangladesh — A Bangladeshi gay rights activist and his friend were hacked to death Monday in what the police believe is the latest in a series of targeted killings by Islamist militants.
The activist, Julhas Mannan, had attracted the attention of extremist groups by helping to organize a march for gay and transgender youths that had been scheduled for the Bengali New Year on April 14. The Rainbow Rally, as it was called, drew threats of violence and police canceled the march, saying the event would offend religious sentiments.
Mr. Mannan, who also edited Bangladesh’s only gay and transgender magazine, Roopbaan, had received “very vicious, murderous threats” from anonymous people who opposed the rally, said Sara Hossain, a friend. “The last few days were very frightening,” she said.
Mr. Mannan had been working for the United States Agency for International Development, and had served as a protocol officer to two United States ambassadors, the police said.
Marcia Bernicat, the current American ambassador to Bangladesh, said in a statement that she was “devastated” by the death of a man she called “a dear friend.”
On Monday, a group of five or six young men posing as couriers approached security guards at Mr. Mannan’s apartment building in the capital, Dhaka, saying they were delivering a parcel, according to Mohammad Iqbal, the officer in charge at the local police station.
The parcel contained machetes, Mr. Iqbal said.
The group attacked a security guard and then entered Mr. Mannan’s apartment, where they killed him and a friend who had accompanied him home from work. The assailants, also armed with guns, escaped the building through a narrow alley, opening fire on a policeman when he tried to stop them, Mr. Iqbal said.
Ms. Hossain, who had spoken frequently to Mr. Mannan about the threats he received, said she was certain he had been singled out for his activism on gay rights.
In the last two years, similar killings have taken place, targeting intellectuals, secular writers, members of religious minority groups and activists who had published views critical of Islam. Ms. Hossain said this was the first time extremists appeared to go after someone for his sexual identity.
“It’s a new shift, a new turn,” she said. “This is something different now.”
Monirul Islam, the head of the counterterrorism unit for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, described the attack as a “planned killing.”
On Saturday, a university professor, Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, was hacked to death and nearly beheaded when he was attacked near his home in the northwest city of Rajshai. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on the professor, according to a message posted on Twitter by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites.
Last year, unidentified men used machetes to attack four activists who published views critical of Sunni Islam, and two publishers who had published their works. The attacks took place in broad daylight, on crowded city streets, or in the victims’ homes.
Since those attacks, extremists appeared to broaden their list of targets to include new categories of minorities. Shiite Muslims, Hindu priests and Christian priests were attacked, and two foreigners were shot, apparently at random. The killings resumed this month, with the hacking death of a student activist in Dhaka and the killing of the university professor.
The death of Mr. Mannan, a cousin of a former foreign minister, Dipu Moni, of the ruling Awami League party, sent shudders through Dhaka’s close-knit diplomatic and government circles.
Associates described him as a “godfather” of the gay community, and one of the few activists willing to identify himself openly in the news media and online. An observant Muslim, Mr. Mannan would celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan by organizing traditional evening suppers for gay youths, one friend said.
Homosexual acts are a crime under Bangladesh’s penal code.
Amnesty International, the human rights organization, released a statement calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to provide better protection to activists who have been threatened, and to push harder to prosecute the killers.
“There have been four deplorable killings so far this month alone,” the statement said. “It is shocking that no one has been held to account for these attacks.” The statement said that since the wave of killings began in 2015, no attacker has been prosecuted or sentenced.