DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A Bangladesh court on Monday sentenced 26 people, including a politician and three officials of an elite security battalion, to death in the grisly, politically motivated killings of seven people in 2014.
Judge Sayed Enayet Hossain found the defendants guilty of abducting and killing the victims, including a senior official and a lawyer in the town of Narayanganj. Nine other defendants were sentenced to up to 17 years in jail.
The main suspect, Nur Hossain, was found guilty of hiring a local commander and members of the elite Rapid Action Battalion to kill his rival to establish supremacy in local politics and business. Hossain was a ruling Awami League party member who allegedly controlled many establishments and illicit drug businesses in the town, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Dhaka.
Three days after the victims went missing on April 27, 2014, their bodies began appearing floating in a river with their bellies sliced open.
The killings shocked the nation, and the battalion came under a renewed focus after facing allegations of extrajudicial killings for years since it was formed in 2004 to fight serious crimes. The battalion consists of soldiers, police and other security personnel and has earned fame for dealing with Islamist militants in the Muslim-majority country, which has been facing threats of radicalism.
Hossain fled to India shortly after the killings, but was arrested by Indian authorities and sent back to Bangladesh a year later.
The court ruled that Hossain's main target was his political rival Nazrul Islam, a panel mayor in the local city corporation who was among those abducted and killed. But a lawyer filmed the abductions on the street, and the assailants then abducted the lawyer and his driver and killed them as well.
Twenty-three of the defendants were present in the court for the sentencing, while the rest were tried in absentia.
The area battalion chief, Lt. Col. Tarque Sayeed Mohammad, who was among those sentenced to death, is a son-in-law of a government minister. The verdict said he was responsible for planning and carrying out the abductions and murders. The defendants facing death also include an army major and a lieutenant commander.
The defendants can appeal the verdicts.