Bangladesh hangs Jamaat's top financier

Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali at the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka on Nov 2, 2014 - the day he was sentenced to death for crimes committed during the country's war of independence. The execution comes as the country is reeling from a rise in
Jamaat leader Mir Quasem Ali at the International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka on Nov 2, 2014 - the day he was sentenced to death for crimes committed during the country's war of independence. The execution comes as the country is reeling from a rise in militant attacks, including a Dhaka cafe attack in July that killed 22 people.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Business tycoon's execution for 'war crimes' a major setback for country's largest Islamist party

DHAKA • Bangladesh has executed a tycoon who was a top financier for Jamaat-e-Islami for war crimes, dealing a major blow to the group's ambitions in the troubled Muslim-majority nation.

Mir Quasem Ali, a key leader of the country's largest Islamist party, was hanged late on Saturday, after he was convicted by a controversial war crimes tribunal on charges of murder and abduction during the 1971 independence conflict with Pakistan.

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

"Several dozen people, mostly family members, attended his funeral prayers," said local police chief Nazrul Islam.

Ali is the fifth prominent Jamaat leader to have been executed for war crimes following trials at the tribunal, which was 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 helped revive by setting up charities, businesses and trusts linked to it after it was allowed to operate in the late 1970s.

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

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 is reeling 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 today, 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 on 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 the police in protests that left some 500 people dead.

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

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, he headed a corporation that owned a pro-Jamaat daily and a television station, which 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.

Ms Hasina's government has defended the trials, saying they are needed to heal wounds from the conflict.

A group of United Nations human rights experts last week urged Dhaka to annul Ali's death sentence, and they questioned the fairness of the trial.

Dr 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".

Separately, the police in Bangladesh have arrested another suspect in the killing of a publisher who was hacked to death by Islamist militants in October last year, the head of the counter-terrorism unit in Dhaka said yesterday.

Militants have targeted secularist writers in Bangladesh in recent years as the government cracked down on Islamist groups seeking to turn the South Asian nation of 160 million into a syariah-based state.

The victim, Mr Faysal Arefin Dipon, had published books by writer and blogger Avijit Roy, a United States citizen of Bangladeshi origin. Roy was also hacked to death by Islamist militants last year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Bangladesh hangs Jamaat's top financier'. Print Edition | Subscribe