Dhaka: Bangladesh`s 1971 war crimes tribunal on Monday issued its first arrest warrants against four top leaders of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) who were accused of heinous crimes like genocide, rape and murder in the Liberation war which left an estimated three million dead.
"Arrest warrants against the four persons" have been issued, chief of the three-member tribunal Justice Nizamul Haque said at the first hearing of tribunal since its Constitution in March this year under the International Crimes (Tribunal) Act 1973.
The four -- JI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, its Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and senior assistant secretaries general Muhammad Qamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Mollah -- are already in jail over other charges, including sedition and murder.
The order came a day after a special prosecution panel submitted a petition to the tribunal seeking orders for the arrested JI bigwigs to be kept in confinement "in the interest of smooth investigation" of charges of 1971 crimes.
"This is a red letter day... the court order has reflected the aspirations of the people," chief of the 10-member prosecution team, Golam Arif Tipu, told newsmen after the 30-minute hearing of the court, marking the start of its functioning.
The tribunal set up at the Old High Court complex in central Dhaka, set August 02 for its next hearing and ordered the prosecution to submit the compliance report of its maiden order on that day.
"It appeared that the four are crucially needed to be kept in confinement as the special investigation agency has already gathered evidence against the four... they were found to be involved in gruesome crimes like genocide, killing, torture, arson and forcing exodus during the Liberation War,"
Tipu had said earlier.
He added that a special investigation agency with assistance of the prosecution panel, set up simultaneously along with the International Crimes Tribunal, would probe further into allegations against Nizami and the three others.
The tribunal was set up in line with the ruling Awami League`s electoral pledges to try the suspects of the Bengali-speaking people, accused of siding with the Pakistani troops.
JI is widely castigated for opposing Bangladesh`s 1971 Liberation War. Nizami and Mujahid had at that time allegedly led the notorious Al-Badr force, which is believed to have slaughtered a number of Bengali intellectuals, including university professors, days ahead of the December 16, 1971 surrender of the Pakistani troops. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had last week reiterated her promise to try the war crimes accused.
"They will definitely be tried on the soil of Bangladesh," she said at a public rally, asking people to stand by her government in its initiative to try the "1971 culprits".
The JI leaders were arrested at different times in the past one month on different other charges, including sedition, and they were quizzed in custody also for their suspected links with outlawed militant groups.
Officials said law enforcement agencies enforced a tight security vigil on the special tribunal and offices of the special investigation agency as well as the prosecution panel, all housed at the old High Court complex.
Closed-circuit cameras were installed at the offices and plainclothesmen were placed all around.
The developments came amid intensified demands for a trial, with different political, professional and social groups, including Sector Commanders Forum (SCF), staging street marches and rallies in Dhaka and elsewhere in the past several weeks.