First they came for the bloggers, the atheists, the secular intellectuals. Then the three-year murder spree spread to aid workers, minority religions and Muslims who did not want their country reshaped by extremist Islam
The attack on Professor Rezaul Karim Siddiquee was so frenzied that its traces remain more than a month later, arcs of dried blood spattered up a pink wall and a pile of sand covering bloodstains that had pooled on the ground where the softly spoken lecturer was all but beheaded.
He was killed on his way to work in the city of Rajshahi by four men who knew their target and his routines well. At least one of the killers was a former student who had a reputation for barracking the professor in class about the “immorality” of the English literature he taught, police believe.
Neighbours in the narrow alley where Siddiquee was murdered overheard him greet someone moments before his death. “You’re here?” he asked his killer. His final words were spoken in surprise but not fear, because Siddiquee never imagined that he would be a target for extremists, his family says.
The murder fitted into a pattern laid down over a gruesome three-year killing spree by extremist groups in Bangladesh: a bloody but brutal attack in broad daylight with the most basic of weapons, and later a claim of responsibility from Islamic State (Isis) or al-Qaida.
But it was also a warning of the way the killers have expanded their campaign, from a focused assault on secular activists into a wider war to reshape Bangladeshi society along lines determined by Islamist extremists.
Siddiquee was an observant believer who regularly attended prayers and even paid for the renovation of the mosque in his ancestral village – his was the most anodyne of public profiles. If he was a target, surely millions of other Bangladeshis are too.
“What he was, we all are. If a person like him who loves to read, recite literature and play music at home can be killed, all of us are liable to be next,” said one of Siddiquee’s colleagues, asking not to be named for fear it could push him up a list of possible targets.
Foreigners, religious minorities from Hindus to Christians, Muslims from other sects and even Sunnis who subscribe to a more generous vision of faith than their attackers, are all now at risk.
Since 2013, 30 people have been murdered. They were from all faiths and social backgrounds, linked above all by the manner of their deaths, at the hands of men wielding machetes, knives and even swords. At least three others barely escaped assassination attempts, surviving with scars on their faces and necks that look like medieval battle injuries.
One, Ahmed Rahim Tutul (pictured on page 15), survived only because he fell between a table and chair as a militant slashed at his head with a sword in an attack that left terrible scars across his face.