Expats spooked after 2 foreigners gunned down in Bangladesh

The killings are affecting our business. We had to cancel some bookings," said a five-star hotel manager in Dhaka.

Dhaka: The cafes and restaurants are empty. The chatter of guests in hotel lobbies has gone quiet. The high-walled embassy compounds are even more closely guarded.

The recent killings of two foreigners in Bangladesh - an Italian and a Japanese - have spooked tourists and expatriates in the moderate, secular South Asian nation, raising alarms about whether Islamic radicals are gaining a foothold and whether foreigners are safe.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both killings, but Bangladesh's government denied the extremist Sunni group was involved. Instead, it accused the opposition of supporting a conspiracy to destabilize the impoverished country of 160 million - a charge the opposition denies.

Any lost confidence in security could damage the country's economy, which relies heavily on foreign aid and investment. Already, hotels and shops catering to the foreign community say they are seeing losses.

"The killings are affecting our business. We had to cancel some bookings," said a five-star hotel manager in Dhaka, asking that neither she nor the hotel be identified for fear of hurting business further.

Another hotel manager, also refusing to be identified, said they have increased security staffing and video surveillance. "If there is any suspicion," he said, "our people in plainclothes are working around the hotel."

Last week's near-identical attacks on Italian Cesare Tavella and Japan's Kunio Hoshi - both were gunned down in daylight by motorcycle-riding youths - stunned many in Bangladesh for targeting two foreigners who had been involved in agricultural projects meant to help the poor.

Twelve foreigners approached for comment this week declined to speak with The Associated Press for fear of drawing attention to themselves.

Bangladeshi business consultant Shoaib Aziz said his Japanese wife was "upset and not feeling comfortable" about returning home from Japan, while many of his clients including Japanese businesses "are delaying their planned tour of Bangladesh.

Medical equipment importer Nur Ahmed, who frequently visits foreign clubs including the U.S. Embassy's American Club, said they were emptying early as foreigners head home before dark.

Several countries, including the US, the Netherlands and Spain, have asked their embassy staff to stay away from crowded places and travel in covered vehicles.

Over the last year, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has signed a slew of investment deals to set up special economic zones with countries including Japan, China and India, promising they would bring billions of dollars in investment and drive economic growth.

"This is alarming. Such killings will create panic among foreigners," said S R Masum, a political science student at Dhaka University. "People want to know what is going on. We are not at ease." 

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