Bangladesh on Saturday executed a senior Islamist leader who was found guilty of war crimes during the 1971 war in which Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan.
Mir Quasem Ali was hanged at a jail near Dhaka, the capital, after a final meeting with family members. The country's highest court had rejected his final appeal Tuesday, and Ali subsequently said he would not seek presidential clemency, thus assuring his execution.
Bangladesh has seen an increase in militant attacks in recent weeks. The most serious violence in the Muslim-majority nation occurred in July, when gunmen stormed a cafe in Dhaka's diplomatic quarter and killed 20 hostages, most of them foreigners.
News reports said a close aide to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party also was executed Saturday.
Ali, 63, was a leader and financial backer of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, which has called for a half-day general strike on Monday to protest the execution. He was the fifth Jamaat-e-Islami leader executed since 2010, when the secular government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established a war crimes tribunal to examine the 1971 war.
Ali was convicted on eight charges that included the abduction of a young man and his killing in a torture cell during the conflict, during which the Bangladesh government says 3 million people died.
Jamaat-e-Islami opposed the war, which began in what was then known as East Pakistan as a revolution by Bengali nationalists opposed to the military junta then in control in Pakistan (known at the time as West Pakistan).
Jamaat-e-Islami denounced the charges against Ali as baseless and said its followers were not involved in war crimes.
India joined the war on the side of Bangladesh late in 1971, and after two weeks of intense fighting, Pakistan surrendered and accepted Bangladesh's independence.
Prosecutors contended that Ali commanded a notorious pro-Pakistan militia in the southern port city of Chittagong during the war. Hundreds of people in Dhaka and Chittagong celebrated in the streets Saturday night after Ali's execution was announced on television.
Prepared for protests
Anticipating possible protests, the government deployed thousands of extra police and border guards this week in major cities. Previous convictions by the war crimes tribunal and executions have triggered violence in which about 200 people, many of them members of the Islamist party, were killed.
After the 1971 war, Ali worked in shipping, banking and real estate and became wealthy. He is said to have spent millions of dollars on legal fees and international lobbying efforts to rebut the allegations against him.
Human rights monitors have challenged the objectivity of the Bangladesh tribunal, and a group of U.N. rights experts appealed to the high court last month to give Ali a new trial "in compliance with international standards."
Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party both have criticized the war crimes cases as politically motivated efforts to eliminate their leadership.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry referenced human rights issues in Bangladesh on Monday during a speech in Dhaka in which he said "we have to uphold and not betray" democratic principles in the fight against extremism.