By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) - A blogger was hacked to death by machete-wielding attackers in Bangladesh on Tuesday, the third killing of a critic of religious extremism in the Muslim-majority nation in less than three months.
Ananta Bijoy Das, a blogger who advocated secularism, was attacked by four masked assailants in the northeastern district of Sylhet on Tuesday morning, senior police official Mohammad Rahamatullah told Reuters.
Rahamatullah said Das was a 33-year-old banker.
He was also editor of science magazine "Jukti", which means "logic", and on the advisory board of "Mukto Mona" (Free Mind), a website propagating rationalism and opposing fundamentalism that was founded by U.S.-based blogger Avijit Roy.
Roy himself was hacked to death in February while returning home with his wife from a Dhaka book fair.
His widow, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, suffered head injuries and lost a finger. In an interview with Reuters in the United States published this week, Ahmed called her husband's killing "a global act of terrorism".
According to monitoring service SITE Intelligence Group, Islamist militant group Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh said al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) had claimed responsibility for the attack.
The regional arm of the al Qaeda network has not issued a statement on the killing, but Ansar says it has ties to AQIS and previously reported on similar attacks which AQIS later took credit for, SITE said.
Imran Sarker, the head of a network of activists and bloggers in Bangladesh, said Das was "a progressive free thinker and a good human being.
"What is going on? The government will have to end this culture of impunity," Sarker added. "Otherwise, the fundamentalists will turn our secular country into another Pakistan or Afghanistan."
More than 120 people have died in violent anti-government protests this year and thousands of opposition activists have been arrested.
Militants have targeted secularist writers in Bangladesh in recent years, while the government has tried to crack down on hardline Islamist groups seeking to make the South Asian nation of 160 million a sharia-based state.
On March 30, Washiqur Rahman, another secular blogger who aired his outrage over Roy's death on social media, was killed in similar fashion on a busy street in the capital, Dhaka.
Their deaths followed the killing in 2013 of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who backed calls to impose the death penalty on Islamist leaders accused of atrocities in Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence.
(Editing by Douglas Busvine, Paul Tait and Mike Collett-White)