In opening their trial, a Dhaka court Tuesday indicted a senior opposition figure and six other men on charges related to the September 2015 killing of an Italian aid worker.
The Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Court charged M.A. Quayum in absentia, who serves as joint secretary of the Dhaka city unit of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), for allegedly plotting the shooting death of Cesare Tavella.
The politician’s brother, M.A. Matin, who is among the other six defendants, was charged with coordinating the killing in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter on Sept. 29, 2015.
“The court today framed the charges against M.A. Quayum, his brother, M.A. Matin, and five people responsible for killing Cesare Tavella,” Additional Public Prosecutor Shah Alam Talukder told BenarNews.
The killing of Tavella, who worked for the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), a Dutch NGO, was one of two killings of foreigners in Bangladesh last year. Days after Tavella’s killing, a Japanese farmer living in Bangladesh, Kunio Hoshi, was shot dead in rural Rangpur district.
The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed those killings as well as an attack at an upscale café in Dhaka where nine Italians and seven Japanese were among 20 hostages killed by militants inside the restaurant on July 1. However, Bangladeshi government officials have denied that IS exists in Bangladesh.
In the case of the Tavella and Hoshi killings, officials have pinned the blame on the opposition, claiming that the BNP and its ally, the faith-based Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami carried them out for “political gain.”
“The two killings have some links as both of them were killed in similar fashion. The motive of the killings is to destabilize the country,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said last year.
On Tuesday, defense lawyer Sanaullah Miah, refuted the allegations that the opposition had a hand in Tavella’s death.
“My clients have not killed Tavella; this is a politically motivated case. This case is to suppress the opposition,” Miah told BenarNews.
In the courtroom, Judge Md. Quamrul Hossain Mollah set Nov. 24 for the first hearing where witnesses would testify.
Miah added that he would petition the High Court to block the charges brought against his clients by the lower court.
The five other defendants are Tamjid Ahmed Rubel (alias “Shooter Rubel”), Russel Chowdhury (alias Chakki Russel), Minhajul Arefin, Shakhawat Hossain (alias Sharif) and Bhangari Sohel.
Four of the suspects – Chowdhury, Hossain, Rubel and Arefin – were arrested on Oct. 26 on charges related to Tavella’s killing. At the time, police said three of the suspects had confessed amid reports that a closed-circuit camera had filmed them near the scene of the fatal shooting.
Quayum and Bhangari Sohel, who is accused of supplying the gun used in shooting Tavella, have absconded.