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Bangladesh arrests are opening act of war crimes tribunal

Two leading Islamist politicians were arrested as Bangladesh prepares to hold a war crimes tribunal for those charged with committing mass murder during the country's liberation war from Pakistan in 1971. Observers worry this might incite violence.

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Bangladesh police arrested three of Jamaat-e-Islami's top leaders, including the party’s head Motiur Rahman Nizami (c.), in Dhaka June 29, sparking street riots that wounded more than 80 people.

Lutfor Rahman/Reuters

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Bangladesh’s government on Wednesday arrested two of the country’s leading Islamist politicians, charging them with committing mass murder during Bangladesh’s liberation war from Pakistan in 1971.

Both men are members of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, the country’s largest fundamentalist party. Their detention comes after the government arrested three of Jamaat’s top leaders, including the party’s head, Motiur Rahman Nizami, in late June, sparking street riots that wounded more than 80 people.

The arrests, which have effectively neutralized Jamaat’s leadership, are the opening act in a tribunal that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed established in March to try war crimes committed during 1971.

1971 Bangladesh atrocities

The government claims it has evidence that Jamaat-e-Islami collaborated with the Pakistani Army, which killed, according to some figures, as many as 3 million Bangladeshis – most of them fellow Muslims - and raped more than 200,000 women.

On the one hand, analysts say the trial could be a model for the world: a Muslim-majority democracy trying one of the modern world’s worst acts of religious extremism.

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