Three Islamists shot dead in Bangladesh security crackdown

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh police shot dead three activists from the country's largest Islamist party in clashes on Sunday, officers said, amid allegations security forces are targeting opposition supporters for execution.

Police said the three were killed during two separate gunbattles with bomb-throwing activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party in two south-eastern towns, clashes that also left several officers injured.

"They threw bombs at us and the joint forces opened fire in self-defence. A gunfight ensued," a local police chief Shahjahan Ali told AFP.

Jamaat said the men were instead arrested and taken to remote places where they were shot dead execution-style. The party said the deaths were the latest in a series of such killings.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a crackdown on opposition unrest after her victory in a Jan 5 general election, which was marred by deadly violence and an opposition boycott.

Jamaat, blamed for much of the violence in the run-up to the election, said at least 59 opposition activists and party officials have now been shot dead since Dec 12 when it says the killings started.

Police insist most of those who died were killed during clashes with security forces who were firing in self-defence.

On Sunday one of the bodies, that of a Jamaat official and teacher, was found near a school at Noudaga village near the town of Kotchandpur. Police said he was killed after Jamaat activists attacked security forces at around 1.30am.

Mr Motiar Rahman, a Jamaat spokesman, rejected the police account and told AFP the gunfight never took place.

"He was picked up by plainclothes policemen from the town headquarters a day before. We immediately informed the local press club and police. The forces took him near a school at Noudaga village and shot him three times in his chest, shoulder and waist," he said.

The police said two young Islamists accused of murdering a ruling party official were also shot dead during gunfights between security forces and Jamaat protesters in the town of Debhata on Sunday.

Jamaat also denied any gunfight, saying the pair were targeted for killing.

A local rights activist, who did not want to be named and who has investigated some of the cases, said security forces are targeting activists from Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and are even demolishing their homes with bulldozers.

Mr Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, also expressed concern, saying there have been reports of BNP and Jamaat activists taken into custody and their bodies having "shown up with bullet wounds".