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Islamic Militant Convicted Of Another Murder

Crackdown begun under previous government leads to death sentences for extremists.

8/28/07 Bangladesh (Compass Direct News) – A crackdown on Muslim militants begun after internal and foreign pressures came to bear on the previous, Islamic-allied government of Bangladesh has resulted in death sentences for two extremists who killed Christian converts.

With a military-backed, interim government in place since January, a Bangladesh court in Dhaka district on August 20 sentenced an Islamic militant to death for the murder four years ago of a Christian convert from Islam.

Mohammad Salauddin, a leading figure in the banned Islamic militant group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), was convicted of killing Hridoy Roy by slitting his throat in the northern town of Sharishbari on April 23, 2003.

“Salauddin pleaded guilty to the murder charges,” prosecutor Shahin Ahmed Khan said. “He confessed to a magistrate that he slaughtered Roy . It was a pre-planned murder.”

In his written statement, Salauddin said he killed Roy “because he was engaged in converting Muslims into Christians by showing films on Jesus,” the prosecutor said, adding that the murder was carried out on orders of former JMB chief Shaikh Abdur Rahman. JMP is blamed for a string of deadly bombings in 2005, and Rahman has since been executed for separate killings.

“Killing is permitted by Quran for those who convert Muslims into Christianity,” Salauddin reportedly said after hearing his sentence. “Hridoy was killed upon Allah’s order.”

The death sentence is the second that Salauddin has received. He and JMB leader Hafez Mahmud were sentenced to death on November 9, 2006 for the murder of a Christian convert from Islam in the northern town of Jamalpur .

Salauddin and Mahmud were found guilty of killing 48-year-old Abdul Gani Gomes, who converted to Christianity from Islam more than 15 years ago.

Judge Nur Hossain of the Speedy Trial Tribunal in Dhaka , one of nine fast-track courts created to combat crime, handed down the verdict in a crowded courtroom, police inspector Shankar Ray said.

“The judge said the two slaughtered the Christian convert in a pre-planned manner,” Ray said. “They confessed to a magistrate, saying they murdered him because Gani Gomes had converted to Christianity from Islam.”

Gomes, a chemist, was returning home from work when four militants, including the two convicted, killed him under a tree in September 2004. The other two attackers are still being sought.

Bangladesh , with a population estimated at 85 percent Muslim, has seen sporadic violence against religious minorities recently. Islamic extremists have attacked or murdered other Christians since Gomes’ death in 2004.

On March 8, 2005, a group of armed men attacked Dulal Sarkar, 35, a lay pastor and evangelist, beheading him in front of his wife and five children. Sarkar worked with a branch of the Bangladesh Free Baptist Church in Jabalpur village, in the southwest division of Khulna .

The assailants were later identified as 10 Muslim extremists with links to Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic political party known simply as Jamaat.

Sarkar’s wife immediately filed a police report, and officers arrested three of the accused. The remaining seven allegedly used their political connections to bribe their way out of jail; the extremists also issued death threats against Sarkar’s wife.

On the night of July 27, 2005, suspected Muslim extremists murdered Tapan Kumar Roy, 27, and Liplal Mardi, 21, who worked with Christian Life Bangladesh (CLB) in Faridpur district. An official at a local Islamic school had threatened Roy and Mardi before the attack, ordering them to cease public showings of the “Jesus Film.”

Police and local officials agree that Islamic militants were likely responsible for the murders, but no arrests have been made.

Leaders Executed

More than two years after the murder of Roy , Salauddin was captured in late 2005 from a rural hideout after Bangladeshi authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on Islamic militants.

Salauddin and Mahmud are members of the Majlish-e-Shura, the JMB’s top decision-making body. JMB was blamed for a series of nationwide blasts on August 17, 2005, when at least 434 bombs exploded almost simultaneously across the country.

Authorities say JMB carried out the bombings and string of subsequent attacks as part of a campaign to impose Islamic law in the Muslim-majority, officially secular country. At least 28 people, including four suicide bombers, died in the blasts.

After the August 17, 2005 attacks, the government said it had failed to recognize the threat posed by Islamic extremists and vowed to root them out. Salauddin and Mahmud were captured from their hideouts following the crackdown on Muslim extremists.

Six JMB leaders were executed in March this year, while dozens more are awaiting execution.

Incubation of Militancy

The Islamic militants grew during the Islamic-allied, previous government of Bangladesh led by Begum Khaleda Zia.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Prime Minister Zia, won the 2001 elections with the help of two small Islamic parties – Jamaat and the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ). Jamaat and IOJ seek an Islamic state governed by sharia (Islamic law).

The BNP stepped down in September 2006, making way for a caretaker government that was supposed to oversee new elections in January. The elections were postponed.

Before the departure of the Zia government, however, one JMB mastermind known as Bangla Bhai orchestrated killing missions in the northern part of the country. Jamaat-e-Islami leader Matiur Rahman Nizami claimed that Bangla Bhai did not exist – saying he was “a creation of the media” – prompting then-state Minister of Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar to remark, “We will arrest Bangla Bhai or English Bhais, but how could we if they don’t exist? Give us their addresses, and we will arrest them.”

Bangla Bhai turned out to be Islamic militant Siddiqul Islam. He was reportedly arrested in March 2006 and hanged to death on March 30, 2007 following his conviction, along with others, for killing two judges in Jhalakathi in November 2005.

Some ministers and lawmakers in the previous government aided Islamic militants. Former Telecommunication Minister Aminul Huq was convicted and sentenced on July 26 to 31 years for aiding Islamic extremists, said court police inspector Khondoker Golam Mortuza.

An independent U.S. panel on religious freedom has expressed concern over growing Islamic militancy in Bangladesh and violence against individuals and groups perceived as “un-Islamic.”

Bangladesh could be a model for other emerging democracies with majority Muslim populations, but “that model is in jeopardy,” warned Felice Gaer of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The commission provides policy recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of State, Congress, and president.

Gaer warned of “growing Islamist militancy and the failure to prosecute those responsible for violent acts carried out against Bangladeshi individuals, organizations and businesses perceived as ‘un-Islamic.’”

In May, the commission kept Bangladesh on its “Watch List” amid concerns that constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion were threatened by growing religious extremism. Bangladesh was first put on the Watch List in 2005.