For instance, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, expressed outrage at the first blogger killing in 2013. But after it happened again and then again, part of a wave of assassinations against writers, publishers, gay activists and Hindus that showed the Islamists’ insidious power was only growing, she began to modify her message and said people should be careful what they write about Islam.
Bangladesh’s Islamist political parties, even if not in power at the moment, seem to be shaping the debate. Several intellectuals said they were scared to speak out about friends who had been killed. Islamists have succeeded in branding secularists as atheists, and one of the most dangerous things to be called right now in Bangladesh is an atheist.
Muhammad Jasimuddin Rahmani, a jailed mullah, has urged Bangladeshis to kill those who insult Islam.
It was one of his books that Mr. Ullah tried to push on his wife when he returned to Dhaka in early September. The purpose of the visit was to get all the paperwork in order for his wife and 6-month-old son to immigrate to New York. The three were close despite the distance; his family said he would call his wife five to 10 times a day. But during his last visit, he told his wife that Mr. Rahmani’s harsh interpretation of Islam was the one and only Islam.
“He seemed to have this hatred for America,” said Monirul Islam, the chief of Bangladesh’s counterterrorism police operations. “We’re not exactly sure where it came from. Maybe he hadn’t assimilated so well.”
Hasan Rafique, a former member of an Islamist group now trying to work against militancy, said the Rohingya camps that Mr. Ullah visited were now prime recruiting territory for several Bangladeshi and Pakistani militant groups.
“Definitely someone helped him around those camps,” Mr. Rafique said. “You need to find out who.”
Mr. Ullah’s family said they did not know; aid agencies said many people had showed up in the Rohingya camps on their own to pass out food, money or medicine for a few days before melting away.
Mr. Ullah found enormous satisfaction in doing the charity work, his family said. That raises the question of how deeply radicalized he was at that point and how many other young men in similar circumstances might be passing across that same membrane.
“It shows you how powerful that propaganda must be,” said Mr. Rahman, his old high school friend. “How could he forget his friends, his family, his baby’s face?”