DHAKA: Dismissing claims of presence of terror outfits like the Islamic State in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said a campaign was underway to portray the country as "unsafe" and pave the way for foreign military attacks like in Pakistan.
"A propaganda is there about the presence of the Islamic State (IS) or al-Qaeda in Bangladesh...it is being done to create a notion that Bangladesh is unsafe," Hasina told reporters at a news conference at her Gonobhaban residence.
She said a series of clandestine attacks and assassinations were carried out in a planned way in recent months and they were attributed to international Islamist outfits to "portray Bangladesh as an unsafe country to expose it to foreign (military) attacks like in Pakistan".
Hasina accused her arch-rival Khaleda Zia, the chief of main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and BNP's crucial ally fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami of masterminding the attacks and carrying out the propaganda.
She said the suspects tracked down so far in connection with the recent attacks were found to have links with BNP and Jamaat.
"Could I ask the people to ponder what will happen if it is established the (foreign) Islamists presence in Bangladesh ...what is happening in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.
The Prime Minister also criticised the Islamic State and al-Qaeda for the atrocities they were carrying out in the name of religion.
"Won't the Muslims (across the world) rise to their consciousness," she asked.
Five writers and bloggers along with a publisher have been hacked to death in Bangladesh in the past two and half years, five of them since January this year with families and friends of the deceased alleging failure on the part of police in bringing perpetrators to justice.
A group identifying itself as Ansar al-Islam -- Bangladesh chapter of Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) -- claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Two foreigners -- Cesare Tavella and a 66-year-old Japanese farmer have also been killed in the last two months. There murders were claimed by IS.
The Prime Minister's comments came after law enforcement agencies repeatedly said they found no IS or Al-Qaeda in the Indian Continent (AQIS) links to the assassinations of the two foreigners, killing of two policemen, a publisher and an attack on a Shiite rally, all of which took place in the past three months sparking international outrage.
The attacks prompted several western countries to issue travel alerts for their nationals intending to visit Bangladesh. The US also offered its assistance to investigate foreign Islamist presence in Bangladesh.
Asked about militant targeting bloggers and branding them as "atheists", Hasina said "killers are being treated as killers" and several of them had already been put on trial and investigations were underway to track down the rest.
She said her government believed in secularism and acknowledges the right of the people to follow any religion.
"One has the right to be an atheist but 'not the right to hurt anyone's religious sentiment by writing obnoxious or hateful comments about any religion...I am a believer and it hurts me as well," the Premier said.
Hasina said despite being a Muslim she frequently visited Hindu temples, Buddhist pagodas and Christian churches as well as mosques "as I have respect for all religions".
"I urge all not to hurt anyone's religious sentiment," Hasina said.
Asked if her comments could encourage the bloggers' killers, Hasina replied, "absolutely not, (as) I consider them as assassins who must be brought to justice."
"You are talking about their killing targets...in all their lists I'm their prime target...don't get demoralised," she said.
BNP boycotted the January 2014 elections over its dispute with Awami League on election time government system.
Zia waged a nearly three-month long violent anti- government campaign enforcing a nationwide blockade coinciding with the first anniversary of the polls.
Over 100 people were killed in arson attacks on trucks and buses following the formation of Hasina's government.
Hasina, talking about the arson attacks, said, "When the orchestrated arson attacks appeared futile, they now resorted to the path of secret killings and clandestine attacks (to destabilise the government)."
Zia last week had also called on the government to hold a "national dialogue".
However, the Prime Minister rejected the call at the press conference saying, "please don't ask me to sit with a killer...I will smell the odour of burned down human bodies if I go near her (Zia)".
Ironically, Zia had harshly rejected Hasina's talks call over a dinner ahead of the January 2014 polls.
Hasina in January this year was declined entry to Zia's office when she went to console her following the death of her younger son Arafat Rahman Koko.
"I am a politician but a human being as well," the Premier said but quickly recalled that she had meetings with Zia and could consider meeting her again only if she severs links with Jamaat and support the ongoing trial of 1971 war criminals.