An elderly Christian convert was brutally hacked to death by suspected Islamic militants in northern Bangladesh on Tuesday amid growing attacks on religious minorities in the Muslim-majority country.
According to a report from the AFP, at least two attackers stopped 68-year-old Hossain Ali while he was taking his regular morning walk in the town of Kurigram and then lunged at his neck with sharp weapons.
"He died on the spot. The attackers exploded a molotov cocktail to create panic and left the scene on a motorcycle," Kurigram district police chief Tobarak Ullah told AFP.
Ullah said Ali had converted to Christianity from Islam in 1999, but he was unsure whether the deadly attack was due to his faith.
"He was not a pastor or reputed Christian. Also there were some disputes over his family properties," Ullah said.
However, in recent months, fighters identifying themselves as members of the Islamic State terrorist group have targeted a number of Christians and other minorities in the region, the report notes.
In January, the group murdered an alleged Christian convert, and in October, a Christian pastor was attacked in northwest Bangladesh. The following month, an Italian Catholic priest was attacked in the north.
Reuters notes that the government has denied that Islamic State has a presence in the country of 160 million people. Instead, it blames Islamist political opponents and the banned homegrown militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh for instigating the violence.
"The constitution of Bangladesh includes freedom of religion, and the country does not have blasphemy laws or an anti-conversion bill," reads the Open Doors USA report. "Yet the constitution also confirms that the state religion is Islam, and the government is known to give in to Islamic pressure."
Nearly 90% of Bangladesh's estimated 169 million people are Muslim, with a Hindu minority of about 10%, and other minorities, such as Christians and Buddhists, making up less than 1%, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Bangladesh ranked 35th on Open Doors' 2016 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution.
"As the Christian minority is growing, it faces more and more restrictions and challenges," reads the report. "This pressure is not driven by the government, but by radical Islamic groups, local religious leaders and families. The competition between the large political parties of the country is also a factor, as the government is pressured to give in to demands from Islamic groups taking to the streets in protest."