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Bangladesh Charges 15 Muslim Radicals in Campaign of Violence

Bangladeshi authorities have charged 15 members of two radical Islamic groups with sedition, for their alleged roles in a series of bombings, murders, and robberies. But the alleged crimes do not include recent violence against the country's main opposition political party.

Bangladeshi authorities say the 15 suspects are members of either Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, or Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, two radical Islamic groups.

They are accused of carrying out a series of murders and bombings, primarily in the northeast of the country. They also face charges of inciting violence, illegal possession of explosives and robbery. It remains unclear when they will face trial.

The government has now banned the two organizations, after months of denying they might be involved in political violence. Still, the arrests are likely to anger opposition leaders, because the charges do not cover incidents of violence against their party, the Awami League.

Last year, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped assassination when a grenade was tossed at a political rally she was addressing. More than 20 other people died. In January, a former finance minister, also a member of the Awami League, was killed, again by a grenade at political rally.

Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch charges that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's ruling Bangladeshi National Party has given tacit support to the radical organizations. He says this is in order to appease two Islamic parties in the BNP's governing coalition.

"The BNP certainly has allied itself with the Islamist right wing, which is to cement that coalition. And if that means it has to offer implicit support to these [radical] groups and their agendas, well, it goes ahead and does that," said Mr. Hasan.

The Bangladeshi National Party denies there are any links between the coalition and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh or Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen.

Despite being a predominantly Muslim country, Bangladesh has a secular government. But Mr. Hasan says that what he calls the Islamization of Bangladeshi politics has led to campaigns of violence and intimidation against the country's Hindus and a minority Muslim sect.