Bangladesh: Islamic Extremists Face Death for Killing Christian

Monday, December 4, 2006

(Compass Direct News) -- A court in Bangladesh has sentenced two Islamic extremists to death for murdering Dr. Abdul Gani Gomes, a Christian convert from Islam, in September 2004.

Gomes, 48, was returning from work in the northern town of Duyanipur in Jamalpur district when four militants, including the two convicted men, jumped him and, in their words, “hacked him to death.”

Hafez Mahmud and Mohammad Salauddin are leading figures in the banned Islamic militant group Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), according to a BBC report.

Both men confessed to killing Gomes on the orders of JMB leader Shaikh Abdur Rahman. JMB members said they resented Gomes because he had encouraged other Muslims to convert to Christianity.

“I am happy that I killed him,” Salauddin told reporters as he emerged from the courtroom.

The verdict was given on November 9. Mahmud and Salauddin have until December 9 to appeal it.

Compass sources said Gomes’ wife, Shahnaz Parvin, also a Christian convert, was present at the trial. In front of the judges, the killers said they would kill her also if she did not convert back to Islam.

Mahmud and Salauddin also threatened Judge Shaheed Noor Uddin, saying their “own” court had already sentenced the judge to death for passing down a guilty verdict.

Unsolved Attacks, Murders

Islamic extremists have attacked or murdered several other Christians since Gomes’ death in 2004.

On March 8, 2005, a group of armed men attacked Dulal Sarkar, 35, a lay pastor and evangelist, beheading him in front of his wife and five children. Sarkar worked with a branch of the Bangladesh Free Baptist Church in Jabalpur village, in the southwest division of Khulna.

The assailants were later identified as 10 Muslim extremists with links to Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic political party known simply as Jamaat.

Sarkar’s wife immediately filed a police report, and officers arrested three of the accused. The remaining seven allegedly used their political connections to bribe their way out of jail; the extremists also issued death threats against Sarkar’s wife.

On the night of July 27 last year, suspected Muslim extremists murdered Tapan Kumar Roy, 27, and Liplal Mardi, 21, who worked with Christian Life Bangladesh (CLB) in Faridpur district.

Swapon Bose, a well-known Christian leader who knew the two evangelists, said an official at a local madrassa (Islamic school) had threatened Roy and Mardi before the attack, ordering them to cease public showings of the “Jesus Film.” Police and local officials agree that Islamic militants were likely responsible for the murders, but no arrests have been made.

On August 9, two Muslim men approached three Christian youths who were distributing tracts on the streets of Dhaka. The young men were dragged to the banks of a river, where a mob beat them and threatened them with death but eventually released them.

Most recently, in August this year, four men attacked CLB worker Shontu Adhikary as he cycled home – beating him and leaving him for dead in the forest. Villagers found him and rushed him to the Barisal Medical College hospital, where he recovered gradually from the attack.

More attacks may be imminent. A pastor from Khulna in Bangladesh who preferred to remain anonymous told Compass that most of the Christian workers he knows are on Muslim extremist hit lists. This source has received death threats via his cell phone, and Muslim extremists have sometimes phoned to say they have seen his children arriving at school.

Influential Militants

The Bangladesh government began cracking down on Islamic militants after the JMB carried out a massive bombing attack on August 17, 2005, setting off almost 500 bombs in one hour in all but one of the country’s 64 districts.

JMB aims to replace the country’s secular law with sharia law, but unlike Jamaat is prepared to use force to achieve its aims.

Bowing to international pressure, the government arrested several key leaders of JMB and other militant groups in March.

Until now the government has been reluctant to act against Muslim militants. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, won the 2001 elections with the help of two small Islamic parties – Jamaat and the Islamic Oikya Jote (IOJ).

Jamaat and IOJ both want an Islamic state governed by sharia law.

The BNP stepped down in September, making way for a caretaker government that will oversee new elections in January 2007.

With the popularity margin narrowing between the BNP and the opposition Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, the smaller Islamic parties may well become the “kingmakers” in this election.

Bitter rivalry between the BNP and the Awami League has dominated politics since 1996, often paralyzing parliament. The BNP is pro-Pakistani, favoring closer relationships with Muslim majority states, while the opposition Awami League is pro-India and describes itself as “pro-liberation.”

Zia and Hasina, whose family members fought on opposite sides of the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, will not speak to each other and often trade insults in the media.

Against this background, analysts fear that the Islamist parties may win respect for their comparatively “clean image” and involvement in community welfare programs.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations on earth, with almost half the 140-million strong population living on less than $1 a day, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Tuesday (November 28).

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