Bangladesh may arrest top Islamist leader for war crimes

Ghulam Azam chaired the formation of the militia that allegedly killed thousands of unarmed civilians four decades ago.

Updated: Jan 30, 2011, 16:17 PM IST

Dhaka: Bangladesh`s top Islamist leader Ghulam Azam, who chaired the formation of the militia that allegedly killed thousands of unarmed civilians four decades ago, may be arrested on charges of committing "war crimes", a media report said.

Mohammad Abdul Hannan Khan, the senior-most member of the International War Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh, said "some progress" in investigation into the allegations against Azam had been conducted.

He, however, did not mention about any time-frame for Azam`s arrest, The Daily Star reported on Sunday.

Azam, 88, was the Ameer (chief) of the Jamaat-e-Islami in then East Pakistan beginning 1969. He led the formation of the Shanti Committee, Al Shams, Al Badr and Razakars -- various Islamist militia accused of acting on behalf of the then Pakistani Martial Law administration.

Ghulam Azam met General Tikka Khan, the East Pakistan administrator, and expressed support, 10 days after the freedom movement formally began on March 25, 1971.

He also lobbied against the acknowledgment of new-born Bangladesh after 1971 with the demand called `Bangladesh Na Manjoor` (Bangladesh not approved). During this activity Ghulam Azam sent requests to Middle Eastern countries to deny recognition to Bangladesh. It continued until the late 1980s.

Azam remained in that post, through his detention and exile in Britain. For several years, denied Bangladeshi citizenship, he was living `illegally`, till the Supreme Court restored his citizenship in 1994 on the grounds that he was born in Dhaka.

He was the Jamaat chief throughout, till 2000 and has since `distanced himself`, from the party, The newspaper said.

If and when arrested, Azam would be joining five of the current top brass of the Jamaat that is the country`s largest Islamist party.

The only other non-Jamaat person to be detained for "war crimes" and up for trial is Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury, a businessman-lawmaker of the main opposition Bangladesh nationalist Party (BNP).

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina`s government has updated a 1973 law to constitute a three-judge panel that is preparing for the trial of "war criminals", which is an emotional issue in the country that claims three million perished during the 10-month freedom struggle.

The trial is expected to be wrapped up in three years` time. But Shahriar Kabir, convenor of a forum called Antorjatik Aporadh Tribunal Dhaka Sohayak Mancha (platform for supporting the tribunal) warned that unless the tribunal was adequately staffed, it could take much longer.

Investigator Hannan Khan also complained of lack of coordination with the government, the newspaper said.