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Bangladesh:Court sentence 19 to death over 2004 attack case

Security in and around the special tribunal in Dhaka, the capital, was beefed up anticipating protests from BNP leaders and activists. Photo/Al jazeera

A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people to death over a 2004 grenade attack on the current prime minister, although a top opposition leader escaped with a life sentence.

The special court awarded life imprisonment to Tarique Rahman, exiled son of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is already languishing inside a Dhaka jail following her conviction in a corruption case.

Rahman, who is also the acting chairman of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was jailed for 10 yeers. He has been living in exile in London since 2008.

The ‘August 21 grenade attack case’, as it is known in Bangladesh, relates to the deadly attack on a rally organised by Hasina’s Awami League (AL) in Dhaka in 2004 when she was the opposition leader.

Hasina narrowly survived the attack after some of her party leaders formed a human shield around her, but up to 20 people were killed, including top AL leader Ivy Rahman, in the attack.

Tarique Rahman, son of then-premier and Hasina’s ally-turned-archrival Khaleda Zia, was among 49 people on trial, with Rahman charged with criminal conspiracy and multiple counts of murder.

Rahman, 50, has been tried in absentia after he fled the country for London in 2008.

He now leads the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from exile after Zia was jailed in February for five years for corruption.

“We thank God for the verdict,” prosecutor Mosharraf Hossain told reporters on Wednesday amid tight security.

“We hoped that Tarique Rahman would get the death sentence,” he said, adding the court observed that Rahman played a key role in the attack.

Hasina was addressing the rally when the grenades exploded and suffered severe injuries in one ear.

Among the dead was the wife of a former president.

Four years later, Hasina stormed back to power after leading a secular coalition to a landslide victory in elections in December 2008.

Two other ministers, former heads of the intelligence agencies and police and a key aide of Zia were also facing death sentences in the case.

Three Islamist extremists were also charged over the attack and later executed in a separate trial.