Bangladesh hangs Islamist party’s top financier

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DHAKA, Sept 4, 2016 (AFP) – Bangladesh has executed a tycoon and top financier for the largest Islamist party for war crimes, dealing a major blow to its ambitions in the troubled Muslim-majority country.

Mir Quasem Ali, a key leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, was hanged late Saturday after being convicted by a controversial war crimes tribunal of murder and abduction during the 1971 independence conflict with Pakistan.

He was hanged at a high-security jail in Gazipur north of the capital. His body was taken to his ancestral village in the central district of Manikganj, flanked by police, for burial early Sunday.

“Several dozen people, mostly family members, attended his funeral prayers,” local police chief Nazrul Islam told AFP.

Ali is the fifth prominent Jamaat leader to have been executed for war crimes following their trials at the tribunal set up by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s secular government in 2010.

The 63-year-old’s death is a major setback for the party which he had helped revive by setting up charities, businesses and trusts linked to it after it was allowed to operate in the late 1970s.

Security was tight before his execution, even though the party has in recent months eschewed violent protests in reaction to war crimes verdicts and there was no immediate sign of unrest.

The tribunal has divided the country, with supporters of Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) branding the trials a sham aimed at eliminating their leaders.

The hanging comes as the country reels from a rise in militant attacks including a siege at an upscale cafe in Dhaka in July that killed 22 people mostly foreigners.

Some 1,000 police were deployed in Gazipur before Ali’s hanging, officials said.

Jamaat, which is banned from contesting elections, called a nationwide strike for Monday, saying Ali was “murdered” for playing a “key role in the Islamic movement” in Bangladesh.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan warned Islamists against any “unruly” activities.

Hundreds of people in Dhaka and Chittagong held impromptu street celebrations late Saturday as news of the execution was broadcast on television.

The conviction and execution of Jamaat officials plunged Bangladesh into one of its worst crises in 2013, when tens of thousands of Islamist activists clashed with police in protests that left some 500 people dead.

In the same year the government launched a nationwide crackdown on Jamaat activists in which tens of thousands of Islamists were either detained or charged over the protests.

– Notorious militia –
Prosecutors said Ali was a key commander of a notorious pro-Pakistan militia in the southern port city of Chittagong during the war, and later became a shipping, banking and real estate tycoon.

Before he was arrested in 2012, Ali headed a corporation which owns a pro-Jamaat daily and a television station that was shut down in 2013 for fuelling religious tensions.

He was convicted in November 2014 of a series of war crimes including the abduction and murder of a young independence fighter.

Hasina’s government has defended the trials, saying they are needed to heal the wounds of the conflict.

But a group of United Nations human rights experts last week urged Dhaka to annul Ali’s death sentence and questioned the fairness of the trial.

Mubashar Hasan, an expert on political Islam who teaches at the country’s private North South University, said the executions have decimated Jamaat’s leadership, with most of their “kingpins gone”.

The party could be forced, as a result, to adopt a more moderate ideology given the strong backlash in Bangladesh against gruesome militant attacks, to retain supporters, Hasan said.

“Second, there is a possibility that some members of the party may be inclined be be violent,” he told AFP. RSS

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