A Bangladeshi court sentenced to death on Thursday 14 people including an Islamist party leader, a former security agency chief and a former deputy government minister for involvement in the country’s biggest ever arms smuggling case.
Police seized 10 truck-loads of weapons in a raid on a state-owned jetty in the southeastern port city of Chittagong in 2004.
The origin of the arms has never been established publicly but they were believed to have been bound for insurgents in India.
Paresh Barua, a leader of the United Liberation Front of Assam separatist group from northeast India was among those who got the death penalty.
Also sentenced to death were a leader of the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami, Motiur Rahman Nizami, a former deputy Home minister, Lutfozzaman Babar, and a former director general of the National Security Intelligence, retired Major General Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury.
The sentences were handed down by Chittagong Metropolitan Special Tribunal judge SM Mojibur Rahman who told the court in his verdict that it was one of the country’s most sensational and important cases, state prosecutor Kamal Uddin told reporters.
Defense lawyer Kamrul Islam Sazzad vowed to appeal.
“The verdict is nothing but political harassment. Justice was not done to my clients,” he said
The main opposition BNP described the tribunal’s verdict as a “deep conspiracy” to ruin it. Those who recovered the weapons during the tenure of the then BNP-led government were put on trial, it said.
“It’s a part of conspiracy to root out the party,” BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said.
Barua, a fugitive, was given the death sentence in absentia. He now leads a faction of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) opposed to talks with the Indian government. ULFA for long has had bases and business interests in the Chittagong area.
Around 1,500 boxes containing submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, submachine carbines, Chinese pistols, 840 rocket launchers, 27,000 grenades and 11.41 million bullets were seized from 10 trucks in the early hours of April 2, 2004.