Bangladesh sentences 6 militants to death for bank robbery that killed 8 people

DHAKA (Reuters) - A court in Bangladesh on Tuesday (May 31) sentenced six Islamist militants to hang for a bank robbery in April that killed eight people, lawyers said, but the defence vowed to appeal against the verdict.

Militants in the majority-Muslim nation have targeted liberal bloggers, academics and members of religious minorities in a surge of Islamist violence, killing at least 27 people since early last year.

Police blamed the bank robbery on members of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, a banned militant group that has laid low since six of its leaders were hanged in 2007.

The gang set off crude bombs as it fled a branch of state-run Bangladesh Commerce Bank on the outskirts of Dhaka, the capital, with takings of 700,000 taka, after killing the manager to get the key to the vault.

Customers and bystanders gave chase and beat one robber to death. A total of eight men were killed during the incident.

The militants received the death sentence in view of the gravity of their crime, public prosecutor Khandaker Abdul Mannan told reporters outside the court after the verdict.

"They committed a heinous crime. They killed innocent people," he said, adding that one of them was still on the run.

The court also sentenced another man to life imprisonment and two others to three years in jail. Two other suspects were acquitted.

Defence lawyer Faruq Ahmed said his clients would appeal to a higher court as they had been denied justice. "The video footage of the robbery was not produced before the court," he added.

Members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for most of the recent attacks. The government has denied that either group has a presence in Bangladesh, however, blaming home-grown Islamists instead.

Dozens of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen members have been arrested and at least five, including the mastermind of the robbery, have been killed in shootouts since November, as security forces cracked down on militants fighting to impose strict Islamic law on the moderate Muslim nation of 160 million.

In 2005, the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen set off nearly 500 bombs almost simultaneously on a single day, some in Dhaka. Subsequent suicide attacks on courts killed 25 people and injured hundreds.