Rangpur: Five Islamist extremists who murdered a Japanese farmer in a drive-by shooting in 2015 were sentenced to death by a Bangladeshi court Tuesday.
The sentence on the five members of the Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was handed down by a judge who found them guilty of murdering Kunio Hoshi in October 2015.
He was one of a number of foreigners to be murdered in recent years in a campaign which has battered Bangladesh’s international image.
Judge Naresh Sarker said the five had killed Hoshi as part of a “campaign to destabilise the country and smear its image”.
“It was a premeditated murder,” the judge told the court in the northern city of Rangpur.
Four of the men were in the court amid heavy security but one of was sentenced in absentia.
A defence lawyer said they were disappointed with the verdict and would appeal to a higher court.
The 66-year-old Hoshi was shot dead by a gunman riding on the back of a motorbike on a dirt road where he was working on a project to grow grass for cattle.
Among those sentenced was Masud Rana, the JMB’s 24-year-old area chief. Prosecutors say he fired the fatal shot at Hoshi near his farm near Rangpur.
Chief prosecutor Abdul Malek said two other people who had helped plan the attack, including the alleged mastermind Saddam Hossain, had already been killed in shootouts with police.
“They recced Hoshi’s home and his movements for days,” Malek told AFP.
“It was a targeted killing aimed at launching an Islamic movement in the country.”
Friends of Hoshi revealed after his death that he had converted to Islam but Malek said the attackers were not aware that he was Muslim. Hoshi was later buried in a Muslim graveyard in Rangpur.
His killing came just days after the murder of an Italian aid worker in the capital Dhaka, one of a string of attacks to be claimed by the Islamic State group.
Although both IS and a branch of Al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks, the government insists the JMB are to blame for most of them and denies that international jihadist networks have a presence in Bangladesh.
Authorities have also blamed the JMB for the killing of 20 hostages, including seven Japanese nationals, during a siege at an upscale cafe in Dhaka in July last year.
The killings of foreigners such as Hoshi have been a major blow to the international reputation of Bangladesh, which has been trying to attract foreign investment to fuel its economic growth.
Work on Japanese-funded infrastructure projects such as coal-fired power plants and a metro system in Dhaka were temporarily halted after the attack on the cafe last year.
Analysts say Islamist militants pose a growing danger in conservative Bangladesh, and a long-running political crisis has radicalised opponents of the government.
There was no immediate reaction from the Japanese embassy to Tuesday’s judgement, but the prosecutor said embassy officials have been following the case closely.
Bangladesh prides itself on being a mainly moderate Muslim country. But the gruesome killings of a series of atheist bloggers, foreigners and religious minorities have rocked the nation.
Since the cafe attack security forces have launched a nationwide crackdown on Islamist extremist groups, killing around 50 suspected militants including the founders of a new JMB faction.