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Bangladesh war crime court indicts British Muslim leader


Bangladesh's war crimes court Thursday indicted a Bangladesh-born British Muslim leader and a US citizen for their alleged role in the murder of top intellectuals during the country's 1971 liberation war.

Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin has held positions in a host of top Islamic organisations in his adopted homeland and was involved in the setting up of the Muslim Council of Britain.

The London-based former journalist, who denies any wrongdoing, was a newspaper reporter in the impoverished South Asian country when what was then East Pakistan broke away from West Pakistan.

He is accused of being a leading member of the notorious Al-Badr militia and of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami political party, which fought for the country to remain part of Pakistan.

"The court has taken into cognisance the charges of war crimes against Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin and issued a warrant to arrest him," International Crimes Tribunal registrar Nasiruddin Mahmud told AFP.

Mueen-Uddin would face the death penalty if extradited and convicted.

State prosecutor Syed Haider Ali told AFP that Mueen-Uddin "has been indicted for crimes against humanity and genocide".

"The charges include the killing of the country's top intellectuals during the 1971 war of liberation," he added.

Another prosecutor, Ziad Al Malum, told AFP Mueen-Uddin faces a total of 16 charges, which include accusations of kidnapping and torture and the murder of 18 top university teachers, journalists and writers.

Malum said he is alleged to have been party to the murder of Sirajuddin Hossain, the executive editor of what was then the country's largest Bengali daily Ittefaq; of top playwright and Dhaka University professor Muneer Chowdhury; and of popular novelist Shahidullah Kaiser.

The head of the tribunal's investigation agency Abdul Hannan told AFP Mueen-Uddin had fled the country after the war.

Mueen-Uddin's London-based lawyer said his client "rejects all these allegations in their entirety" and raised doubts about whether Britain would agree to extradition, given concerns about the death penalty and the impartiality of the court.

"Bangladesh will be required to establish that there is a prima facie case against Mr Mueen-Uddin," said lawyer Toby Cadman in a statement to AFP.

"They will also be required to give an undertaking that Mr Mueen-Uddin will not receive the death penalty."

The court on Thursday also indicted Ashrafuzzaman Khan, a United States citizen, on the same charges as Mueen-Uddin.

Prosecutor Ali told AFP that Khan, a Dhaka University student leader who is believed now to be in New York, was "chief executor" for the Al-Badr militia.

The tribunal has already charged 12 people with war crimes and sentenced to death two people, including the vice-president of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Bangladesh has struggled to come to terms with its violent birth.

The current government says up to three million people were killed in the war, many murdered by locals who collaborated with Pakistani forces.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government established the tribunal in March 2010 to try the collaborators, but it has been hit by a series of controversies.

A presiding judge resigned in December last year after his leaked Internet calls showed he was under pressure from the government to deliver a quick judgement.

The war crimes trials have plunged the country into one of its most turbulent chapters since independence, as the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its main ally Jamaat have protested what they view as politically motivated charges.

The opposition has called a series of national strikes protesting the trails and clashes over the verdicts have left more than 100 people dead since the first judgement on January 21.