DHAKA: Bangladesh was rocked by a new wave of deadly violence on Friday as Islamist supporters went on the rampage to vent their fury at the execution of one of their leaders for war crimes.
Abdul Quader Molla became the first person to be hanged for his role in the country’s bloody 1971 war of independence from Pakistan when he was sent to the gallows at a prison in the capital Dhaka late Thursday.
The hanging took place at 10:01 p.m. after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal for a final review of the death sentence handed down to Molla, who was a senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
Molla had been found guilty in February by a much-criticised domestic tribunal of having been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia that fought against the country’s independence and killed some of Bangladesh’s top professors, doctors, writers and journalists.
He was convicted of rape, murder and mass murder, including the killing of more than 350 unarmed civilians. Prosecutors called him the “Butcher of Mirpur,” a Dhaka suburb where he committed most of the atrocities.
Fears that the execution could spark further unrest, in a country where political violence is intensifying in the build-up to deeply divisive elections, were soon realized as reports emerged of street battles in towns and cities.
Two protesters and two activists from the ruling Awami League were hacked to death on Friday. Jamaat activists firebombed train stations, set fire to businesses and blockaded key highways, police officials said.
While there were no immediate reports of violence in Dhaka, large numbers of police could be seen on the streets in anticipation of unrest—particularly after Friday prayers on the Muslim day of rest.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Bangladesh was passing through a “very sensitive moment,” urging all parties to resolve their differences peacefully.
“We’ve long urged the authorities to assure that trials are free, transparent and in accord with international standards, but we’ve also urged all parties and their supporters to express their views peacefully and again, to refrain from violence,” she said.
Authorities went ahead with the execution despite widespread international appeals against the move, including from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.