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’71 warrants on Jamaat quartet

Dhaka, July 26: A Bangladesh war crimes tribunal today issued arrest warrants against four detained leaders of the country’s largest Islamic party for alleged genocide during the 1971 liberation struggle that left millions dead during a bloody nine-month fight for independence.

“Arrest warrants against the four persons” have been issued, Justice Nizamul Haque, the chief of the three-member tribunal, said after the panel issued the warrants against the four leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, accused of siding with Pakistan and slaughtering several Bengali intellectuals.

The order came at the tribunal’s first hearing since it was set up in March following a 2008 election promise by the ruling Awami League led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, considered to be pro-India.

The tribunal office, in the Old High Court complex in capital Dhaka, wore a sombre look as the panel issued the warrants against Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary-general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, and assistant secretaries-general Mohammed Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla.

Nizami and Mujahid had allegedly led the Al-Badr force, a Jamaat militia believed to have slaughtered a number of Bengali intellectuals, including university professors, just before the December 16, 1971, surrender of Pakistani troops.

Molla, according to a 1990 report of the People’s Enquiry Commission, was known as “butcher” in the Dhaka suburb of Mirpur in 1971.

All four were detained last month on charges ranging from obstructing police to sedition. The warrants would ensure they don’t go scot-free after getting bail for these offences, sources said.

The order came a day after the prosecution submitted a petition to the tribunal to keep the detained Jamaat leaders in confinement “in the interest of smooth investigation”.

“This is a red letter day... the court order has reflected the aspirations of the people. It is a matter of pride for the Bengali nation,” chief of the prosecution team Golam Arif Tipu said after the hearing.

“Evidence might be destroyed if they stay free which might hinder investigations. The arrest warrants need to be issued to assist investigations. They were active in committing crimes, including killings, genocide, looting, rape, arson as the collaborators of the occupation army at different places of Bangladesh during the liberation war.”

According to official figures, about 3 million people were killed during the war, some 2,00,000 women were raped and millions were forced to flee their homes.

The police say most of the suspects are from the Jamaat, a major partner of a 2001-2006 coalition government headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

The next hearing has been fixed for August 2.

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