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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bangladeshi Islamists Bomb Independent Newspaper

Dhaka, July 6, 2006. At 11:35pm, local time, two explosions rocked the
office of Weekly Blitz, the independent newspaper of maverick editor,
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Choudhury was not on the premises at the
time, and he reported that no one was injured in the explosions. Dhaka
police and members of the anti-terrorist Rapid Action Battalion
recovered material from two bombs that exploded outside the facility
and two unexploded bombs from inside Blitz offices.

On June 29, 2006, Mufti Noor Hussain Noorani, self-proclaimed bigot
and head of the radical Khatmey Nabuat Movement (KNM), telephoned
Weekly Blitz threatening to blow it up and murder Shoaib within 36
hours. Choudhury angered Noorani by publishing an editorial opposing
KNM’s attack on the minority Muslim sect, Ahamdiyya, the subject of
Islamist persecution, particularly in South Asia. Choudhury reported
the threats almost immediately, but the police took no action, later
claiming to have “misplaced” the report.

Dhaka Police Commissioner Mizanur Rahman telephoned Shoaib as police
gathered at t the bomb site, and asked him why he thinks Blitz would be
targeted by the radicals. Choudhury responded almost incredulously
"because we are an anti-radical newspaper." Bangladesh Home Minister
Lutfuzzamen Babar, who heads the Rapid Action Battalion, told Shoaib
that Noorani would be arrested within the next 24 hours.

Choudhury and Weekly Blitz have been associated with a number of
anti-Islamist positions, and Choudhury was arrested in 2003 after he
attempted to visit Israel. A Muslim, he had previously editorialized
about the Islamist threat in Bangladesh, urged his country to recognize
Israel, and advocated interfaith dialogue based on mutual respect and
understanding. Radicals, several inside the police, stalked Choudhury
for months before pouncing. Choudhury was imprisoned and tortured for
17 months while an American Jew, Richard Benkin, waged a battle for his
release. The battle was often a one-person movement until
Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) joined the fight. Three weeks after
Kirk and Benkin met with the Bangladesh ambassador, Choudhury was
freed. He still, however, faces charges of sedition—charges which the
government admits have no merit—which can carry a sentence of death.

In a second phone call, Rahman told Shoaib that the police would
immediately begin providing protection at both Weekly Blitz offices and
at his home. Damage from the bombs thus far appears minor, although the
damage to the building likely would have been total had the unexploded
bombs been detonated.

Benkin is in continuous contact with Choudhury and others in
Bangladesh, and can provide additional information. Kirk also has been
informed of the incident.

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