Death toll hits 80 in Bangladesh war crime clashes


Bangladeshi firefighters attempt to extinguish a burning train compartment at the Kamalapur Railway Station during a nationwide strike called by Jamaat-e-Islami in Dhaka on March 4, 2013.



NEW DELHI, India — Security forces and Islamist activists clashed for the fifth day in strikes against war crime trails in Bangladesh, killing at least three people on Monday, Al Jazeera reported.

Monday's causalities bring the death toll to 80 since Jan. 21, according to Agence France-Presse.

Guards in Kolaroa shot and killed two people when about 1,000 protesters attacked them with bricks and sticks, Hossain Shawkat, a local government official, told AFP. Another person was killed in Ullapara after police fired on protesters.

Activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party are protesting the recent death sentence of its vice president, Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, who was tried on charges of rape, torture and murder, the BBC reported.

GlobalPost senior correspondent Jason Overdorf reports that "the continuing violence in Bangladesh threatens to spiral out of control, perhaps escalating into terrorist attacks and the declaration of a state of emergency by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Bangladesh Awami League government."

Sayeedi is the third person convicted by the war crimes tribunal, set up in 2010 by Hasina's government to look into alleged crimes connected with the nation's 1971 war for independence, Al Jazeera reported.

Former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad has also been sentenced to death, and Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in prison for his actions during the war, according to ZeeNews.

Insiders say that Jamaat activists have little to lose now that their leaders face death sentences and the party itself is likely to be banned, GlobalPost's Overdorf explained.

Therefore Jamaat workers are turning to the quasi-revolutionary tactics of an underground party.

“Jamaat's days as a viable political party here seem to be over,” said Dhaka-based author Anis Ahmed.

The violence and a two-day nationwide strike called by Jamaat has, according to AFP, "crimmpled the country," as school and businesses have shut down. 

As Hasina's rivals in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) draw closer to Jamaat in a bid to destabilize Hasina's government, the rising tide of violence could reshape the political landscape for years to come — potentially marginalizing the BNP as a radical force.

How scary can it get?

A civil war, or even a simmering guerilla conflict like India's fight against the Maoists, is not likely. But “a Jamaat gone underground could probably carry out regular terroristic attacks for some years to come,” said Ahmed.

“More than the vandalism of public property, what people fear are random attacks on civilians, and possibly at some point targeted killing of progressives [one blogger has been a victim already].”

And that could result in a state of emergency or other draconian measures from the government in the name of restoring order.

Also on Monday, men set fire to three train compartments at Kamalapur Railway Station. Demonstrators allegedly threw a bomb at the train, police told ZeeNews.

“A loud explosion was heard and the fire engulfed three compartments,” Jahirul Islam, director of Bangladesh Railway, told The Daily Star

The 1971 war killed between 300,000 and 500,000 people, AFP reported.  

Jason Overdorf contributed to this report from New Delhi.