Bangladesh: one murder does not a terror attack make

On the evening of Monday, 28 September, Cesare Tavella, an Italian aid worker, was jogging along a road in the ‘diplomatic enclave’ of the well-to-do area of Gulshan, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Three guys rode up on a motorbike and shot Tavella three times before making their escape. He died of his wounds.

This is the second such murder of a foreigner in the diplomatic area of Gulshan in three years – a Saudi national was murdered there in 2012. On the face of it, then, there is nothing to suggest that this was a terrorist attack, let alone that it was part of a sustained terrorist campaign against foreigners. After all, terrorists do not tend to shoot just one person and then not even claim responsibility for it.

Almost immediately after Tavella’s killing, however, it was being reported that the Islamic State (IS) had claimed responsibility. The sole source of this rumour seems to be SITE, a US-based company that tracks the online activity of white-supremacist and jihadi organisations. But does the killing of Tavella seem like the work of IS to you? Two guys jump off a motorbike and shoot someone. And that’s it. No grisly video. No statement. No gloating. And yet still the Western media report the incident as an IS-organised hit, from the New York Times, which claimed, ‘IS says it killed Italian aid worker in Bangladesh’, to the Guardian, which stated, ‘IS claims responsibility for the death of Italian man in Bangladesh’.

Worse than the panic-mongering response of the press, however, is the reaction of Western governments. Almost immediately, the UK Foreign Office issued a warning through its online travel-advice section: ‘Militants may be targeting Western interests in Bangladesh in late September; UK officials have been advised to limit attendance at events where Westerners may gather.’ It is instructive that the advice is timed at 2.02pm, 28 September – that’s 7.02 pm in Dhaka, literally minutes after the murder. So on the basis of one shooting, tragic and despicable though it was, terrorism alerts are being released.

Then there’s the ludicrous nature of the advice from the UK government that appeared in the days after the shooting: ‘Keep a low profile and limit your attendance at events where Westerners may gather, eg, in hotels or conference centres.’ Most of the short-term contract foreigners here are probably staying in hotels. At least the UK government did not issue a travel warning, which some other governments did.

Bangladeshis I know and work with are not only baffled by the overreaction in the West, they are also (although they don’t say this to me) a little annoyed. Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, expressed her surprise at the travel warnings issued by foreign missions in Dhaka. She pointed out that two Bangladeshis were murdered in New York not that long ago, and no states issued any kind of travel warnings or terror alerts.

Bangladesh is far from perfect (as shown by the recent slaughter of Bangladeshi bloggers, and the continuing political instability). But it is mostly peaceful, and is not riddled with terrorists determined to attack foreigners. Most of the expats working here like myself are in far less danger than we would be in many other countries, and we’re in far less danger than many Bangladeshis here. The kneejerk reactions from the West leading to silly advice on the basis of single incidents do not help. I will take a leaf from the Bangladeshis’ book, and just continue to get on with my life.

Al Parkes is a writer based in Bangladesh.

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