US expresses concern at killing of two Bangladeshi Christians

Dhaka, Bangladesh - The murder of two Bangladeshi Christian charity workers who were hacked to death a week ago may have been a religious hate crime, the US embassy in Dhaka said.

Unidentified assailants attacked the two field workers for Christian Life Bangladesh at their home at Boalmari in the central Faridpur district.

"Because of the circumstances surrounding their murder, we are concerned that Tapan Kumar Roy and Liplal Marandi may be the victims of religious extremism," a statement from the US embassy said.

"We understand that police have arrested three persons in connection with this case and we hope that the perpetrators of the murders will be brought to justice lawfully and promptly," it added.

Police told AFP last week they had not ruled out a link between the murder of the two men and hardline Islamic militant groups.

"Religious freedom is a basic, constitutionally-guaranteed right in Bangladesh and other democracies. It is important that government and civil society work effectively to safeguard this important, fundamental right," the statement added.

Christian Life Bangladesh provides health services for people contaminated with arsenic from well water, those infected with

HIV and provides nutrition education for mothers and children in a number of districts.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh has seen sporadic violence against religious minorities in recent times.

Human rights groups say the Ahmadiyas, a Muslim minority sect, are persecuted in Bangladesh by extremists from the majority Sunni community who want them declared "non-Muslim" for not believing that Mohammed was necessarily the last prophet.