DHAKA (Reuters) - Death threats to academics in Bangladesh, including the junior home minister, are fuelling a climate of fear following the killings this year of three online critics of religious nationalism in the Muslim-majority nation.
Militants have targeted secularist writers in Bangladesh in recent years, as the government has tried to crack down on hardline Islamist groups that seek to make the South Asian nation of 160 million a sharia-based state.
Police are investigating threats received by more than a dozen academics, ranging from the vice-chancellor of the capital's Dhaka University to a former chief of the university grants commission, the minister, Asaduzzman Khan, told Reuters.
"I have ordered a thorough investigation," Khan said, adding that the threats came from Al Qaeda Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist extremist group based in Bangladesh that claimed responsibility for the killings of the bloggers.
In recent months, police in Bangladesh have arrested 15 people, including the head of information technology for soft drinks maker Coca-Cola Co, over suspicion of links with Islamic State, as fears grow that the militant group could be extending its influence among Muslims in South Asia.
Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Clarence Fernandez