Bangladesh arrests militant suspect in US blogger murder

DHAKA, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Bangladesh police said on Saturday they had arrested an Islamist militant wanted in connection with the 2015 killing of a U.S. blogger critical of religious extremism.

Deputy police commissioner Masudur Rahman said the man, identified as Arafat Rahman, 24, a member of al Qaeda-inspired militant group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team, was suspected of taking part in the killing of writer Avijit Roy.

Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants in February 2015 while returning home with his wife from a Dhaka book fair. Roy's widow, Rafida Ahmed, was seriously injured.

Police official Rahman said the detainee, who was identified after analyzing CCTV footage, was arrested by the counter-terrorism police unit on the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka, on Friday night.

A look back: American blogger killed in Bangladesh

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DHAKA, BANGLADESH - APRIL 07 : Bangladeshi students protest seeking arrest of three motorcycle-riding assailants who hacked student activist Nazimuddin Samad to death in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 07, 2016. (Photo by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Bangladeshis on Sunday paid tribute to an American critic of religious extremism killed in Dhaka, in the latest of a series of attacks on writers who support free thinking values in the Muslim-majority nation. Avijit Roy, a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin, was hacked to death by machete-wielding assailants on Thursday after a book fair, sparking widespread condemnation from home and abroad.
Police forensics investigate the scene where US blogger of Bangladeshi origin was hacked to death by unidentified assailants in Dhaka on February 27, 2015. Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim majority nation, suffered machete blows to the head. Police have launched a probe and recovered the machetes used in the attack on Roy, said to be around 40, but refused to say whether Islamist militants were behind the incident. AFP PHOTO/Munir uz ZAMAN (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Forensics police investigates the site where US blogger of Bangladeshi origin hacked to death in Dhaka on February 27, 2015. Avijit Roy, founder of Mukto-Mona (Free-mind) blog site which champions liberal secular writing in the Muslim majority nation, was hacked to death in Dhaka by unidentified assailants, police said, with his family saying the writer had received numerous threats from Islamist militants. AFP PHOTO / MUNIR UZ ZAMAN (Photo credit should read MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Atheist blogger who championed liberal secularism hacked to death in Bangladesh http://t.co/GnSWHO7ZSe http://t.co/FPOzfq1JJZ
U.S. Citizen Avijit Roy was killed by unidentified attackers Thursday in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
SHAHBAG, DHAKA, BANGLADESH - 2016/10/04: Bangladeshi activists call a protest for freedom of free speech in front of the National Museum. They demand to open Station Blog and release of writer and publisher, Shamsuzzoha Manik and students organization leader Dilip Roy and to remove the section 57 of the ICT law. (Photo by Md. Mehedi Hasan/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Teachers, writers, artist and cultural activists attend a protest rally holding the photos of the murdered bloggers and writers in Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 17, 2016. At least 18 people, including atheist bloggers, foreign aid workers and religious minorities, have been killed in attacks in Bangladesh over the last two years. Almost all the attacks have been claimed by transnational Islamist extremist groups, including the Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliates (Photo by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Bangladesh Student Union arrange a torch procession to protest killing free thinkers like blogger, writter, teacher, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on April 26, 2016. Yesterday miscreants hacked to death country's first LGBT magazine editor Xulhaz Mannan. For last counple of years such killing increased at an alarming rate. (Photo by Mohammad Ponir Hossain/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
DHAKA, BANGLADESH - APRIL 07 : Activist and members of the Gonojagoron Mancha movement shout slogans as they attend a protest rally over the murder of activist Nazimuddin Samad on April 07, 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Unknown assailants hacked student activist Nazimuddin Samad 27, to death while walking with a friend. According to Dhaka Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nurul Amin, police suspect 28-year-old Nazimuddin Samad was targeted for his outspoken atheism in the Muslim majority country and for supporting a 2013 movement demanding capital punishment for war crimes involving the country's independence war against Pakistan in 1971 and also wrote on his Facebook wall. PHOTOGRAPH BY Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcro / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
DHAKA, BANGLADESH - APRIL 07 : Activist and members of the Gonojagoron Mancha movement shout slogans as they attend a protest rally over the murder of activist Nazimuddin Samad on April 07, 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Unknown assailants hacked student activist Nazimuddin Samad 27, to death while walking with a friend. According to Dhaka Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Nurul Amin, police suspect 28-year-old Nazimuddin Samad was targeted for his outspoken atheism in the Muslim majority country and for supporting a 2013 movement demanding capital punishment for war crimes involving the country's independence war against Pakistan in 1971 and also wrote on his Facebook wall. PHOTOGRAPH BY Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcroft Media UK Office, London. T +44 845 370 2233 W www.barcroftmedia.com USA Office, New York City. T +1 212 796 2458 W www.barcroftusa.com Indian Office, Delhi. T +91 11 4053 2429 W www.barcroftindia.com (Photo credit should read Zakir Hossain Chowdhury / Barcro / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
DHAKA, BANGLADESH - APRIL 07 : Activist and members of the Gonojagoron Mancha movement shout slogans as they attend a protest rally over the murder of activist Nazimuddin Samad in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 07, 2016. (Photo by Zakir Hossain Chowdhury/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Family of death row war crimes convict Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, along with a petition, goes to Bangabhaban with a view to meeting president Abdul Hamid over discussing Salauddin Quader's trial on 21November, 2015 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They, however, failed to meet the president. (Photo by Sony Ramany/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A Bangladeshi policeman stands guard at the site of the murder of a law student, hacked to death by four assailants the night before, in Dhaka on April 7, 2016. A Bangladeshi law student who posted against Islamism on his Facebook page has been murdered, police said on April 7, the latest in a series of killings of secular activists and bloggers in the country. (Photo by Sony Ramany/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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"In the primary interrogation, he confessed his involvement in the killing of four other secular activists," he told Reuters.

It was not possible to contact the detainee to comment as he was in police custody.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh of 160 million people has had a string of deadly attacks targeting bloggers, foreigners and religious minorities.

The most serious recent attack came in July 2016, when gunmen stormed a cafe in the diplomatic quarter of Dhaka and killed 22 people, most of them foreigners.

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Police say the Ansar Ullah Bangla Team militant group is behind the murders of more than a dozen secular bloggers and gay rights activists. They believe a sacked army major, who is still at large, was the leader of the group and masterminded the killings.

Al Qaeda and Islamic State have also claimed responsibility for a series of killings over the past few years, including that of Roy.

The government has denied the presence of such groups, blaming domestic militants instead. But security experts say the scale and sophistication of the cafe attack suggested links to a wider network.

SEE ALSO: US on track to triple bombs dropped on Afghanistan against Taliban

Police and army commandos have killed more than 60 suspected militants and arrested hundreds since the cafe attack.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Clelia Oziel)

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