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Bangladesh court sentences 14 to death in arms smuggling case

A Bangladesh court has sentenced 14 members of the country's Islamist opposition party to death in an arms smuggling case. The leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party - Matiur Rahman Nizami - was among those convicted.

A court in Bangladesh's second-largest city, Chittagong, convicted 14 members of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami on Thursday. The special tribunal's judge, Mojibur Rahman, found the men guilty of attempting to smuggle weapons to a rebel group in neighboring India.

In 2004, authorities confiscated a shipment of weapons in Chittagong that contained some 4,000 firearms, 1 million bullets, 27,000 grenades and other military equipment. The boat reportedly had sailed to Bangladesh from Singapore via Hong Kong. Prosecutors said the group had attempted to smuggle the vessel to a separatist group in northeast India.

The defense criticized the ruling and vowed to file an appeal.

"The verdict is nothing but political harassment. Justice was not done to my clients," defense lawyer Kamrul Islam Sazzad said.

Top officials from the Jamaat-e-Islami party were among those sentenced to death on Friday, including its leader, Matiur Rahman Nizami. Retired Major General Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury and former junior minister for home affairs, Lutfuzzman Barbar were also convicted.

The head of the Indian rebel insurgency group United Liberation Front of Assam - Paresh Barua - was also convicted in absentia on Thursday. His group was part of a separatist movement in northeastern India's Assam state for whom the arms shipment had been destined. The militant group signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government in 2011.

The Jamaat-e-Islami party was a key partner in the former government of Khaleda Zia, who has been a longtime rival of

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Members of the Islamist group

have received death sentences

in recent months from an International Crimes Tribunal tasked with investigating crimes stemming from the country's war of independence in 1971. Jamaat-e-Islami contends the trial is politically motivated.

kms/mkg (AP, Reuters)

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