Bangladesh executes Islamist leader for 1971 war crimes

Bangladesh executes Islamist leader for 1971 war crimes
Jamaat leader Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, who was executed at Dhaka Central Jail last night for his 1971 war crimes, is buried at his village home in Sherpur early Sunday.

On a July morning in 1971, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman marched into Sohagpur, a remote hamlet, and unleashed cold-blooded savagery.

Within six hours, the local militia he raised, and the Pakistan occupation forces massacred at least 164 unarmed civilians and raped many women. Since then, Sohagpur in Sherpur has been known as "Bidhoba Palli", the village of widows.

Kamaruzzaman, then nearly in his 20s, flung some of the bodies into a lorry and took those to Sherpur town as trophies just like a big game hunter would do in Africa.

Over the loudspeaker, he invited people to come and see his handiwork. Sohagpur had paid the price for sheltering freedom fighters. People in the town shuddered at the sight.

Forty-four years after his nine-month-long atrocities across Mymensingh, this man, who would wear neat clothes, part his jet-black hair from the middle and move with an aura of sarcasm and authority, was finally hanged last night for the mass killing he had committed.

Sixty-three-year-old Kamaruzzaman was the second war criminal to die after Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that opposed the birth of Bangladesh.

His execution, which came after a five-year-long legal battle, was a watershed in the nation's pursuit of a closure on the wounds inflicted during the Liberation War in 1971. Around 300,000 people were killed and over 20,000 women raped in the war.

Kamaruzzaman, assistant secretary general of Jamaat, was taken to the gallows around 10 minutes before his execution by hangman Raju and two others, said jail sources.

"He was hanged at 10:30pm," Inspector General (prisons) Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin told The Daily Star.

Jail sources said his body was kept dangling for around 20 minutes to confirm his death.

An ambulance carrying Kamaruzzaman's body came out of the prison under police protection around 11:40pm and headed for his village home at Kumri Mudipara in Sherpur.

The vehicle reached Phulpur of Mymensingh, around 40 kilometres from Sherpur sadar, at 2:40am today, said police sources.

Arrangements were made to bury him at his village, Sherpur Deputy Commissioner Zakir Hossain told this correspondent around 1:05am.

Meanwhile, Jamaat called a nationwide dawn-to-dusk sit-in for tomorrow protesting what it said was "planned killing" of its leader Kamaruzzaman.

The Jamaat leader's execution was carried out five days after the Supreme Court rejected his petition for reviewing the death sentence, bringing an end to the decades-long wait of Sohagpur people for justice.

In his instant reaction, Jalal Uddin, whose father and six other family members, were killed by Kamaruzzaman and his militia, said, "We have got justice after long 44 years. The souls of the martyrs will now find peace.

"His execution has brought solace to the families of the victims," Jalal, also a prosecution witness, told The Daily Star after watching the news of Kamaruzzaman's execution on TV at his village home.

He expressed gratitude to the government for bringing the key Al-Badr organiser to justice.

Face of a traitor

Kamaruzzaman was a college student when the Liberation War began. Hundreds of thousands joined the war against Pakistan. But this man chose to go against his own people and fight for the Pakistanis.

In the name of a united Pakistan, he didn't hesitate to pick up, torture and shoot people to death. His name would strike terror into the people of greater Mymensingh.

As the top leader of the then student wing of Jamaat -- Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS) -- Kamaruzzaman led the formation of Al-Badr force, set up camps in greater Mymensingh region and killed many people during the 1971 Liberation War.

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