Bangladesh’s highest court yesterday upheld the death sentence handed down to a top militant and two of his followers for a 2004 attack on the British ambassador that left three people dead.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeals by Mufti Abdul Hannan, head of Harkatul Jihad Al Islami (HuJI) and two members of the banned militant group.
The appeals are “dismissed”, Chief Justice S K Sinha told the court in a brief ruling.
They could now be hanged within months unless they seek a review of the apex court’s verdict. But chances of overturning a death sentence in a review are extremely rare in Bangladesh’s judicial history.
“We think we’ll seek a review of the verdict. But it depends on the decision of the three,” Mohammad Ali, the state-appointed defence lawyer, said.
The trio were originally convicted in 2008 of murder and masterminding the grenade attack in May 2004 on then British high commissioner Anwar Choudhury, who was only slightly injured.
The attack came just weeks after the Bangladeshi-born diplomat took up the post and occurred as he was visiting a historic Sufi shrine in the northeastern city of Sylhet.
The blast left three worshippers dead and scores injured.
The British High Commission had welcomed the conviction of those involved but opposed the use of the death penalty, which is outlawed in Britain.
Police said at the time of the attack that the group was plotting “to avenge the deaths of Muslims in Iraq and across the world by America and Britain”.
HuJI was formed in 1992 by Bangladeshis who had fought in Afghanistan in the war against Soviet forces.
It was the first Islamist extremist outfit to have emerged in the Muslim majority nation of 160mn and it was transformed into a deadly group after Hannan took over its leadership in the late 1990s.
The group has been accused of a series of deadly blasts targeting a Christian church, a mosque of Ahmadi Muslims, rallies of secular activists and communists.
“He started the Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh and masterminded a series of deadly attacks in the late 1990s until his arrest (in 2005),” deputy attorney general Sheikh Monirzzaman Kabir said.
According to Kabir, Hannan went to the Pakistani city of Karachi in the 1980s to study in a madrassa, but left it to join the Afghan war.
“He then came back to Bangladesh and joined a madrassa as its principal but quit to join HuJI,” Kabir added.
Hannan was also being tried for the August 2004 grenade attack on an opposition political rally in Dhaka being held by Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister. More than 20 people were killed and Hasina was wounded.
He has also been sentenced to death for a bomb attack on a Bengali new year’s festival in 2001 that left 10 people dead and scores wounded.
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