Bangladesh: Court Upholds Death Sentences in Attack on British Diplomat

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
161207-diplomat-620.jpg Mufti Abdul Hannan, left, leader of militant group Harkat-il Jihad al-Islami, is flanked by police officers as he appears in a Dhaka court, June 16, 2014.

The Bangladesh Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld death sentences for an extremist group’s leader and two fellow members over a failed assassination attempt on the British ambassador 12 years ago.

Then-British High Commissioner Anwar Choudhury survived a grenade attack at an Islamic shrine in the northeastern town of Sylhet that killed three people and injured at least 70 others in May 2004.

A four-member bench of the Supreme Court’s appellate division, led by Chief Justice S.K. Sinha, upheld death sentences for Mufti Abdul Hannan, chief of the militant group Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HuJI), and two of his aides, Sharif Shahedul Alam (alias Bipul) and Delwar (alias) Ripon. Bangladesh banned HuJI in 2005.

Hannan, who is believed to have fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, is the first top-ranking militant leader to be close to execution since 2007, when authorities hanged the founder of militant group Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Shaikh Abdur Rahman, and his military wing chief, Siddiqul Islam, for terrorism and militancy. Hannan’s lawyer, Mohammad Ali, told BenarNews that his client respected the court’s decision.

“Possibly, we will seek a review of the verdict,” Ali said.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam expressed relief after the court’s decision, saying the defendants were dangerous.

He said they could appeal the apex court’s decision, and, if that fails, seek the president’s mercy to avoid the gallows.

“If the president rejects the clemency appeal, they would be hanged according to the rules,” he said.

Attack at Hazrat Shahjalal shrine

The British High Commission in Dhaka did not issue a statement on Wednesday but is satisfied with the decision, a spokesperson told BenarNews.

On May 21, 2004, Choudhury, who had recently been appointed British High Commissioner to Bangladesh, was targeted in a grenade attack while visiting the shrine of Hazrat Shahjalal in Sylhet, about 200 km (123 miles) from Dhaka.

The Sylhet-born Choudhury, who was critically injured in the attack, became Britain’s ambassador to Peru in 2014.

On Dec. 23, 2008, the trial court in Sylhet sentenced the three defendants in the case to death and ordered life sentences for two other HuJI members, Mohibullah and Abu Zandal. All remain in prison.

With the exception of Zandal, all unsuccessfully appealed their convictions before the High Court. On Feb. 11, 2016, it upheld the trial court’s verdicts, leading to the apex ruling on Wednesday.

Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has two wings – the High Court Division and the Appellate Division. Trial court verdicts are appealed before the High Court whose decision can be appealed to the Appellate Division, also known as the apex court.

Analyst: De-radicalization program needed

“The trial of the militants is definitely a good step, but trial or execution is not enough to contain militancy. The militants are not ordinary criminals. They are motivated by a distorted ideology,” retired Brig. Gen. Sakhawat Hossain, an international terrorism and militancy analyst, told BenarNews.

He said the government should launch a de-radicalization program to contain militancy in Bangladesh.

Hannan’s brushes with the law began in 2000 when he admitted planting a bomb on a helipad in Gopalganj, where a helicopter carrying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was due to land.

He was sentenced to death in 2014 for his role in the bombing of the Ramna Ratamul cultural program in Dhaka that killed 10 people on April 14, 2001. The attack, carried out by Shujan, a HuJI member, targeted the program that was part of Pahela Boishakh, the Bengali new year’s celebration.


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