DHAKA (Reuters) - Islamic State is trying to ride a wave of religious radicalization by falsely claiming a spate of killings in Bangladesh, a government minister said, adding there was enough evidence implicating domestic militant groups.
Analysts say that as Islamic State loses territory in Iraq and Syria and its finances get drained, it may be trying to build affiliates in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Bangladesh for jihadists to launch attacks locally and cheaply.
But Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh's state minister for foreign affairs, told Reuters in an interview that no local or foreign agency had found any presence of Islamic State in the country.
"Those claims (of killings) are definitely false," Alam said on Tuesday. "But what we've agreed with our partnering countries is that we'll not argue over it - that sends a wrong message."
His comments came just days after a EU delegation said there was an unprecedented threat to human rights and freedom of expression in Bangladesh and urged Dhaka to tackle the challenge to protect its international reputation.
Since February last year, the Muslim-majority South Asian nation of 160 million has seen the killing of at least 26 people, including five secular bloggers, a publisher and two gay right campaigners.
Al Qaeda has claimed some of the attacks, while Islamic State has claimed 17 killings since first taking responsibility for murders in Bangladesh in September last year, according to U.S.-based monitoring service SITE.
Alam said it was an attempt to "ride the wave" without being involved at all.
"We know from Syria that there is no such common ground for Islamic State and al Qaeda, they can't be on the same platform," he said. "But the funny thing is that in some instances both have claimed responsibility here."
The government has said that two groups, Ansarullah Bangla Team and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, were behind the attacks as part of their campaign to establish a sharia-based Muslim state.
"Islamist violent extremism has gained so much ground (around the world)," Alam said.
"The question is whether Bangladesh is vulnerable. Bangladesh has always been vulnerable because of the low level of education, lack of employment. But till date, the global radical organizations, the terrorist groups, haven't been able to make any presence in Bangladesh, let alone make it their base."
Editing by Sanjeev Miglani