A Dhaka court on Tuesday sentenced six militants to death in the sensational case over the murder of LGBT rights activist Xulhaz Mannan and his friend Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy five years ago.
Judge Mojibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal passed the order, acquitting two others.
Among the six death-row convicts, the mastermind, sacked army officer Syed Ziaul Haq, is still untraced.
The others awarded the death sentence are militants Asadullah, Akram Hossain, Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon, Arafat Rahman and Sheikh Abdullah.
Suspects Sabbirul Hoque Chowdhury and Zunaid Ahmed were acquitted as the prosecutors failed to prove charges against them.
Zia, Akram, Sabbirul and Zunaid were tried in absentia while the four others were on the dock when the court pronounced the verdict.
Xulhaz was hacked to death inside his apartment at Kalabagan along with Tonoy on April 25 in 2016. Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) claimed the responsibility of the double murder.
The killing was one of a series of militant-linked assassinations of secular activists and religious minorities. Investigation found Islamist militants responsible for the murder of Xulhaz and Tonoy.
Xulhaz, a graduate from the International Relations Department of Dhaka University, was 35-year old when he was killed. He worked with the US embassy in Dhaka and the USAID.
Xulhaz would edit Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine.
Tonoy, 26, was involved with the Lok Natyadal theatre group. He taught drama to children at an organisation - People’s Theatre.
A patrolling policeman was also injured in the attack of the assailants when he tried to stop them. The assistant sub-inspector managed to snatch a bag containing two firearms, ammunition and a mobile phone from them.
Xulhaz’s brother filed a murder case against five to six unidentified suspects with the Kalabagan Police Station the same day. A separate case was also initiated over the attack on the policeman and the confiscated firearms.
Asked if satisfied with the verdict, Xulhaz’s brother Minhaz Mannan Emon said he is not the right person to express any reaction as the killers were “totally unknown to me”.
“As the killers were unknown to me, I had to lodge the case against unnamed killers. So I am not the right person to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction over the verdict,” he told journalists.
Inspector Muhammad Monirul Islam of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit pressed charges against the eight suspects at the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court of Dhaka on July 23, 2019. The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal framed charges against them on November 19, 2020.
On February 10, the tribunal sentenced Zia, Akram, Mozammel and Abdullah to death in another case – over the murder of Jagriti Prokashoni publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan.
Earlier on February 16, Zia, Akram, Mozammel and Arafat Rahman Siam were sentenced to death for killing writer-blogger Avijit Roy near the TSC of Dhaka University.
The death references of the three convicts and their appeals are awaiting hearing by the High Court.
Police have no specific information about death-row convict Syed Ziaul Haq. All attempts to arrest the notorious terrorist have apparently gone in vain as he is continuously dodging security forces for more than nine years.
The government in 2016 announced a Tk 20 lakh bounty for him and in 2017 banned Ansar Al Islam, a banned terrorist outfit Zia used to lead as its military head.
Police officers who are looking for Zia told this correspondent that he does not use any telecommunication devices to dodge arrest.
Ansar al Islam follows the ideology of global terrorist al-Qaeda. Most of the Ansar al Islam operatives are highly educated and have expertise in Information and Communication Technology.