A gay rights activist and his friend have been hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants in an apartment in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.

At least five attackers came to Xulhaz Mannan’s apartment posing as couriers and attacked him and his friend with sharp weapons. They also injured a security guard. Witnesses say the men shouted “Allahu Akbar” ((God is great)) as they fled the scene.

Mannan was a USAID official who had also worked as a protocol officer at the U.S. embassy in Dhaka.

US reaction

The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat, condemned the killing.

“We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the Government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders,” she said.

Mannan was also the editor of a transgender magazine Rupban, the country’s only magazine for the LGBT community. He organized an annual Rainbow Rally which has been held April 14, the Bengali new year.

This year, police banned the rally as part of widespread security measures.

Activist received threats

Ahead of the banned event, Mannan told AFP that he had received threats from Islamists in online posts.

“They have even set up an online group to threaten us,” he said.

The attack came just two days after a liberal and free-thinking professor was hacked to death in the northwestern city of Rajshahi, the latest in a series of murders of secular bloggers and liberal activists.

Amnesty International also condemned the attacks.

“The brutal killing today of an editor of an LGBTI publication and his friend, days after a university professor was hacked to death, underscores the appalling lack of protection being afforded to a range of peaceful activists in the country,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director, in a statement posted on its website Monday.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for Monday’s attacks, although Islamic State claimed the attack on the 58-year-old professor, saying he had been murdered for “calling for atheism.” Bangladesh’s home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, rejected this claim, insisting the murder was the work of “local militants.”

A Bangladeshi group affiliated with al-Qaida claimed responsibility for the killing of a liberal blogger earlier this month.

Although activists in recent years have tried to increase awareness and rights, the LGBT community has been heavily persecuted in the Muslim-majority country.

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