DHAKA - Bangladeshi clerics have said they have issued a fatwa against the killings of minorities and secular campaigners in the mainly Muslim country, where police have arrested over 10,000 people in a crackdown on militancy.

Nearly 50 people have been killed over the last three years in a wave of gruesome attacks by the militants targeting Hindus, Christians, Sufi Muslims, activists and foreigners. Many were hacked to death with machetes.

Farid Uddin Masuod, who heads the Council of Bangladesh Clerics, said over 100,000 clerics had signed the fatwa, or religious edict, which will be made public on June 18. “The fatwa unequivocally said these killings of non-Muslims, minorities and secular activists are forbidden in Islam,” he told AFP. “We’ve said these killings are illegal and are crimes against humanity,” Masuod added.

Last week an elderly Hindu priest was found nearly decapitated in a rice field and a Hindu monastery worker was hacked to death, while a Christian grocer was murdered near a church.

Other victims have included liberal activists and secular bloggers along with two foreigners and two gay rights activists. The Islamic State (IS) group and a South Asian branch of Al-Qaeda have claimed responsibilities for many of the murders.

But the police and the government say they have no presence in the country. The fatwa announcement came as police said they had detained 3,115 people on the fourth day of a nationwide anti-militant drive aimed at stopping the killings, taking the total number to 11,307.

Bangladeshi authorities had faced criticism for failing to tackle the violence, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed at the weekend to catch “each and every killer”. She has accused the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist party ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, of orchestrating the killings to destabilise the country.

However, the BNP says 2,100 of its activists have been arrested and accuses the government of using the crackdown to suppress political dissent.

Most of those arrested are wanted for criminal offences unconnected with militancy.