British Muslims deny war atrocities

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The Independent Online
Three prominent British Muslims are denying allegations that they were involved in atrocities during the Bangladesh war of independence from Pakistan in the early Seventies.

Two former ministers have called on the British authorities to investigate the claims by witnesses who say they saw acts of murder and incitement to murder, and collaboration with the retreating Pakistani army.

The claims are made in a documentary - Dispatches - tonight on Channel 4. One of the three linked at the time with organisations which persecuted intellectuals, is Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, in his late forties, who lives in Tottenham, north London; he works for a housing cooperative, is vice- chairman of East London Mosque, and is a campaigner against Salman Rushdie. The second accused is Abu Sayeed, also in his late forties, who lives in London; he is principal of the Islamic College in the East End and is a co-opted member of the Tower Hamlets education committee.

The third is Lutfur Rahman, in his late fifties, who lives in Bordesley Green, Birmingham; he is an imam of Bordesley Green Islamic Centre, and like Abu Sayeed, was said to be a member of a radical Islamic group, Dawatul Islam. All three deny involvement in any atrocities.

The allegations relate to the break-up of Pakistan. (East Pakistan eventually became Bangladesh, after a war which pitted India against Pakistan, with India backing the secessionists, while the Pakistani army was supported by local Muslim fundamentalists.) It was during this period that civilians supporting independence were killed, some by troops, some by Bangladeshi sympathisers.

Witnesses in the programme allege that Lutfur Rahman and Abu Sayeed addressed a rally of 500 Muslim fundamentalists loyal to Pakistan in Sylhet. Witnesses claim the two issued a fatwa, a religious edict sanctioning the murder of their political opponents. A series of killings and torture of civilian opponents followed the meeting.

Mr Rahman allegedly led a mob to the house of an old spiritual leader, Yaz Mih Tafadur, who was dragged from his house, stoned, thrown into a pond and left to die.

Channel 4 has a leaflet with Mr Rahman's name at the bottom that says "we must eliminate traitors, miscreants, separatists and rumour mongers".

However, Mr Rahman told Channel 4 he was not involved in the 1971 war. Abu Sayeed is accused of having been a leader of Al Badr, a paramilitary organisation which worked with the Pakistan army and was implicated in many killings: both Mr Sayeed and Mr Rahman are accused of drawing up lists of opponents for the Pakistan army, which later killed them.

Abu Sayeed told Dispatches: "I challenge you to find out anything from any record whatsoever, whether here or in Bangladesh."

Chowdhury Mueen Uddin is described as having been well-acquainted with members of the Al Badr organisation. One witness says she recognised him as part of a gang abducting a professor, and two more say they recognised him attempting to abduct a journalist in Dhaka on 17 December 1971.

Chowdhury Mueen Uddin told Channel 4: "I was never a member of the Al Badr, or involved otherwise in its activities. All the accusations being made against me are therefore utterly false and malicious, and either politically motivated or instigated otherwise."

Peter Shore, the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Stepney in the East End of London, saw a preview of the television programme yesterday and called for the British police to investigate the three men.

"It is not for me to make judgements about particular cases," he told a press conference. "The law officers of the Crown ought to investigate, and having done so, should refer any prima facie cases to the prosecuting authorities."

Lord Archer of Sandwell, a former Labour Solicitor General, said on the programme: "It seems to me that the whole purpose of passing the Geneva Conventions Act of 1957 was precisely so that people against whom allegations of this kind are made, who are found to be in this country, can be investigated."