Bangladesh jails five militants for 2005 bombing

Observers see sentences as start of govt crackdown on hardline Islamic group
Bangladesh jails five militants for 2005 bombing

Police officials carry a suspected member of the Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh group after the man allegedly hurled an explosive inside a court building in the district of Chittagong in southeast Bangladesh in this Oct. 2, 2005 file photo. (Photo by AFP)

A Bangladeshi court has sentenced five members of a banned Islamic militant group to 10 years in jail for their involvement in series of bomb attacks in 2005.

The court on Jan. 18 found the five men guilty of being behind three bomb blasts in the southeastern town of Rangamati on Aug. 17, 2005. Another man was acquitted.

The bombings were part of a synchronized bombing blitz across the country that day by the hardline Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) group.

JMB detonated 300 crude bombs almost simultaneously in 63 of Bangladesh's 64 districts.

The bombings were part of a campaign to replace British common law, a legacy of British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent, with sharia law.

The campaign also saw the JMB and another banned militant group, Harakat-ul-Jihad, target and bomb various cultural and political events including courthouses, that left more than 30 people dead.

Kangaroo courts were set up in northern areas and JMB members publicly executed people for allegedly violating Sharia.

The government responded by arresting dozens of JMB members and most of its top leaders in 2006, executing six of them in 2007.

Despite keeping a low profile since then, the group has been blamed for a series of recent attacks, including the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Dhaka and the shooting of three foreigners, two of whom died.

Bangladesh has seen sharp rise in Islamic fundamentalism since last year prompting the government to intensify a crackdown on local militant groups, which has seen dozens of JMB members arrested, their camps busted and at least five killed in police shootouts.

Christian activists say the jailing of the five men might be an effort to prevent the group making a comeback.

"Recent violence … shows the JMB is gaining strength. The government must continue efforts to stop them, because JMB's purpose of establishing Islamic state is unacceptable in a modern, democratic world," said Theophil Nokrek, secretary of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission.

Catholic rights activist Rosaline Costa said the government can't be complacent in arresting and jailing militants.

"The government must strike hard before things get out of control," she said.

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