CHITTAGONG, Bangladesh- A Bangladesh court sentenced Thursday the leader of the country’s largest Islamist party and 13 others to death over a huge 2004 arms smuggling racket, sparking fears of new political unrest.
Motiur Rahman Nizami, 70, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was convicted over the racket involving 10 truckloads of arms seized by police at a Bangladesh port a decade ago.
“We’re satisfied with the verdict. This is an unprecedented case and all those accused have got due justice,” prosecutor Kamal Uddin Ahmed told AFP from the southern port city of Chittagong.
Prosecutors said Nizami helped unload the weapons at the port that included 4,930 sophisticated firearms and 27,020 grenades destined for a rebel group across the border in northeastern India.
Nizami, who was industries minister at the time, was among 50 people charged with smuggling, arms possession and other offences over the racket thought to be the largest of its kind in Bangladesh history.
A former home minister and former chiefs of the country’s two main intelligence agencies were also among the 14 sentenced to death for their roles in the racket, the prosecutor said.
A leader of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), Paresh Baruah, was also handed the death penalty in absentia over the racket, which was meant to help the group’s decades-long separatist struggle.
Baruah has long been on the run.
The verdict follows deadly unrest that erupted in the weeks leading up to this month’s controversial general elections, including strikes, transport blockades and other protests mostly blamed on Jamaat activists.
Security was tight in Chittagong where the judge handed down his long-awaited decision following a trial that lasted for years.
Extra police and elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers were deployed in key areas as a precaution, amid concerns activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party could take to the streets to protest the decision.
“We have deployed around 1,000 police and RAB officers to ensure security,” Chittagong police chief Shafiqul Islam told AFP ahead of the verdict.