NEW DELHI: In yet another violent attack, a leading gay rights activist and friend were hacked to death by suspected Islamists posing as courier company employees. Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of Bangladesh's first magazine for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Roopbaan, and a friend, Tanay Fahim, were hacked to death in Mannan’s apartment in Dhaka by five or six people.

"Three persons came this evening and claimed they had a courier package for Mannan. When I went up and told him (Mannan) this, he said that he was not expecting any such parcel," said Parvez Mollah, a security guard of the building in Kalabagan, in a report in The Telegraph. "As I came down and told them this, they insisted that I allow them to meet him (Mannan)," Mollah said. When the guard objected, they stabbed him leaving him injured in the left eye and left arm.

According to reports, the assailants then rushed to Mannan's flat on the second floor and using sharp weapons, attacked him and his friend, Abdul Bari, a Special Branch sub-inspector, was quoted as saying by the Daily Star.

The two men died on the spot. Mannan and Fahim were both gay rights activists, and in addition to work on the magazine, had organised a gay rights rally that took place on the Bengali New Year since 2014. This year, the rally was cancelled due to security reasons.

Mannan also worked with the US embassy as a protocol officer and is a cousin of former foreign minister Dipu Moni. "We abhor this senseless act of violence and urge the Government of Bangladesh in the strongest terms to apprehend the criminals behind these murders," Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, the U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, said in the statement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the killing a "barbaric murder."

"An act like this simply is beyond words, unjustifiable, inexcusable," State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters.”[Mannan] was the kind of person willing to fight for what he believed in, someone ready to stand up for his own rights and the rights of others," USAID Administrator Gayle Smith said in a statement.

Amnesty International also issued a statement condemning the killings. "The brutal killing today of an editor of an LGBTI publication and his friend, days after a university professor was hacked to death, underscores the appalling lack of protection being afforded to a range of peaceful activists in the country," said Champa Patel, Amnesty International's South Asia director.

The attacks come just days after a university professor was hacked to death by suspected Islamists in the city of Rajshahi. English professor Rezaul Karim Siddique, 58, was attacked by machete wielding assailants, as he walked to the bus station from his home. Professor Siddique, is the fourth professor from Rajshahi University to be killed by Islamists.The attack was claimed by the Islamic State.

Whether the Islamic State was behind the attack or not, the relevant point is that such attacks are becoming more and more commonplace in Bangladesh -- with, although technically a secular nation, is dominated by a brand of religion-based politics.

Just earlier this month, secular blogger -- Nazimuddin Samad -- was hacked to death in Dhaka. Samad, a 28 year old law student had criticised elements of radical Islamism on his Facebook page, had been on a hit list of 84 atheist bloggers that a group of radical Islamists had drawn up and sent to the interior ministry.

Protesters -- 300 of whom took the streets after Samad’s murder -- have accused the government and police of fostering a climate of impunity that makes such brutal crimes not just possible, but frequent in the Muslim majority country.

Maruf Rosul, one of the Ganajagaran Mancha activists, told the Guardian: “The government is creating impunity to all the offences by not bringing the perpetrators to book. “Instead of pointing blame at different outfits, the government should identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”

In 2015, Bangladesh witnessed multiple similar attacks on secular writers, bloggers and others. In October, a publisher of secular books was hacked to death, while two other writers and a publisher were stabbed and shot at a publishing house in a separate attack in Dhaka. The body of Faisal Abedin Deepan, of the Jagriti Prokashoni publishing house, was found inside his office, after Deepan had filed a complaint with the police following death threats and abuse received on facebook.

On the same day in October, publisher Ahmed Rahim Tutul was attacked in the office of the Shudhdhoswar publishing house and seriously wounded. Two other writers were seriously wounded in the attack.

Both Deepan and Tutal had published books by Bangladeshi-American writer and blogger Avijit Roy, who was hacked to death in February the same year. A month later, blogger Washiqur Rahman was killed. Blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was killed in May. In August, Niloy Neel, another secular blogger was hacked to death.

In all cases, the Bangladesh government did little to catch the attackers. All four men were killed in a similar fashion -- hacked to death with sharp weapons. All of them were killed inside or near their homes. Further, all four were critical of religious intolerance, a sensitive issue in Bangladesh which although technically a secular country is gripped by religiously-motivated politics and violence.

Niloy Neel was murdered after the gang broke into his apartment in the capital's Goran neighbourhood, according to the Bangladesh Blogger and Activist Network which was alerted to the attack by a witness. Neel's name was Niloy Chowdhury, but he used the former name in the blogging community,Dhaka Tribune reported, Neel used to write about the need for capital punishment for 1971 war criminals, the report said.

In an earlier attack, blogger-activist Ananta Bijoy Das was murdered in northeastern Sylhet in Bangladesh by unknown assailants.

Das, in fact, wrote blogs for Mukto-Mona, a website once moderated by Roy. Police said that Das was attacked by masked men with machetes in broad daylight, as he left his home for work. Local police officer Mohammad Rahamatullah told Reuters that Das "came out of his house and what we came to know from the local people who are witnesses, was that four miscreants chased him and killed him near his house".

In all cases, the Bangladesh government and police came under scrutiny. Roy’s death, for instance, prompted the country’s Law Commission to comment on the “general” and “helpless” way people are being targeted in the country that has, in turn, compromised faith in the judicial system. Roy’s wife, who suffered head injuries and lost a thumb in the attack, had initially pointed to police failure in preventing the attack. “While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood close by and did not act,” Rafida told Reuters. Now, we demand that the Bangladeshi government do everything in its power to bring the murderers to justice.”

Roy’s father, Ajay Roy, also accused the police of negligence in the crime and said officers allowed the attackers to escape, adding that he was "not satisfied" with the investigation.

Tragically, these attacks were not an aberration. They follow a string of attacks on writers, bloggers, professors and journalists in the country.

According to the “2014 World Press Freedom Index” released by Reporters Without Borders in January this year, Bangladesh ranked a low 146 of 180 nations. Ahmed Rajib Haider, an atheist blogger was hacked to death on February 2013, by machete-wielding activists from a militant group associated with the Jamaat-e-Islami party. Haider, an architect by profession, ran a blog that was instrumental in demanding trials for the perpetrators of the mass killings during the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, a move that was widely seen as aimed at radical Islamists.

Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi, two well-known married Bangladeshi journalists were stabbed to death in February 2012; the motive is still to be determined. Another blogger, Asif Mohiuddin, was stabbed and accused of blasphemy.