Nightmare of Sohagpur hanged
On a July morning in 1971, Muhammad Kamaruzzaman marched into Sohagpur, a remote hamlet, and unleashed cold-blooded savagery.
Within six hours, the local militia he raised, and the Pakistan occupation forces massacred at least 164 unarmed civilians and raped many women. Since then, Sohagpur in Sherpur has been known as "Bidhoba Palli", the village of widows.
Kamaruzzaman, then nearly in his 20s, flung some of the bodies into a lorry and took those to Sherpur town as trophies just like a big game hunter would do in Africa.
Over the loudspeaker, he invited people to come and see his handiwork. Sohagpur had paid the price for sheltering freedom fighters. People in the town shuddered at the sight.
Forty-four years after his nine-month-long atrocities across Mymensingh, this man, who would wear neat clothes, part his jet-black hair from the middle and move with an aura of sarcasm and authority, was finally hanged last night for the mass killing he had committed.
Sixty-three-year-old Kamaruzzaman was the second war criminal to die after Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, a party that opposed the birth of Bangladesh.
His execution, which came after a five-year-long legal battle, was a watershed in the nation's pursuit of a closure on the wounds inflicted during the Liberation War in 1971. Around 30 lakh people were killed and over two lakh women raped in the war.
Kamaruzzaman, assistant secretary general of Jamaat, was taken to the gallows around 10 minutes before his execution by hangman Raju and two others, said jail sources.
"He was hanged at 10:30pm," Inspector General (prisons) Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin told The Daily Star.
Jail sources said his body was kept dangling for around 20 minutes to confirm his death.
An ambulance carrying Kamaruzzaman's body came out of the prison under police protection around 11:40pm and headed for his village home at Kumri Mudipara in Sherpur.
The vehicle reached Phulpur of Mymensingh, around 40 kilometres from Sherpur sadar, at 2:40am today, said police sources.
Arrangements were made to bury him at his village, Sherpur Deputy Commissioner Zakir Hossain told this correspondent around 1:05am.
Meanwhile, Jamaat called a nationwide dawn-to-dusk hartal for tomorrow protesting what it said was “planned killing” of its leader Kamaruzzaman.
The Jamaat leader's execution was carried out five days after the Supreme Court rejected his petition for reviewing the death sentence, bringing an end to the decades-long wait of Sohagpur people for justice.
In his instant reaction, Jalal Uddin, whose father and six other family members, were killed by Kamaruzzaman and his militia, said, "We have got justice after long 44 years. The souls of the martyrs will now find peace.
“His execution has brought solace to the families of the victims,” Jalal, also a prosecution witness, told The Daily Star after watching the news of Kamaruzzaman's execution on TV at his village home.
He expressed gratitude to the government for bringing the key Al-Badr organiser to justice.
FACE OF A TRAITOR
Kamaruzzaman was a college student when the Liberation War began. Hundreds of thousands joined the war against Pakistan. But this man chose to go against his own people and fight for the Pakistanis.
In the name of a united Pakistan, he didn't hesitate to pick up, torture and shoot people to death. His name would strike terror into the people of greater Mymensingh.
As the top leader of the then student wing of Jamaat -- Islami Chhatra Sangha (ICS) -- Kamaruzzaman led the formation of Al-Badr force, set up camps in greater Mymensingh region and killed many people during the 1971 Liberation War.
The nature and extent of the atrocities he had committed were such that the Supreme Court in its judgment observed those were worse than the cruel acts of the Nazis during the World War II.
When Kamaruzzaman was finally caught and put in the dock during the previous tenure of the Awami League-led government in 2010, he denied his crimes.
The genesis of his hatred for the freedom-loving Bangalees goes back to the days when he joined the ICS. He then raised his own death squad, Al-Badr, in the greater Mymensingh. Al-Badr started working as the auxiliary force of the Pakistan army to identify and kill pro-Bangladeshi intellectuals and thinkers.
So low was his morality that Kamaruzzaman didn't hesitate to enrol for journalism in 1976 at Dhaka University, where his fellow Al-Badr men had committed the worst crime of picking up teachers and intellectuals and killing them.
But before that, he was briefly arrested and put in jail only to be released a few months later through means that he only knew.
With the political changeover following the 1975 coup, Kamaruzzaman never looked back and climbed up the ladder of political influence.
Not only he enjoyed impunity like many other anti-liberation people, but also the freedom fighters and families of the martyrs had to witness Kamaruzzaman and other anti-liberation forces consolidate their positions as they were patronised and politically rehabilitated over the years in independent Bangladesh.
He regrouped his men when the ICS resurfaced as Islami Chhatra Shibir in 1977. He then consolidated his position in Jamaat and took charge of the party's mouthpiece -- the daily Sangram in the early '80s.
Father of five sons and a daughter, Kamaruzzaman had been Jamaat's assistant secretary general since 1992.
With a strong footing in the party, he contested parliamentary elections in 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008, but never won.
Though he never showed remorse for his crimes, Kamaruzzaman, following his arrest in 2010, proposed reorganising Jamaat and bringing in new faces to the party leadership.
In May 2013, he was sentenced to death by the International Crimes Tribunal-2 for war crimes, including mass killings in Sohagpur.
In November last year, the SC upheld the death sentence. He then sought review of the judgment, but the petition was rejected by a four-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha on April 6.
HANGED, AT LAST
The countdown to Kamaruzzaman's execution began the moment the apex court rejected his review petition on Monday.
His family members met him at Dhaka Central Jail later that day, giving rise to speculations that he might be executed that very night.
However, that didn't happen as the jail authorities hadn't received the copy of the SC judgment.
Speculations over his execution ran high again two days later, as the SC released the copy of the verdict and it reached the jail authorities through the tribunal on Wednesday evening.
However, Kamaruzzaman wasn't hanged this time also, as he was taking time to decide whether he would seek presidential clemency.
The Jamaat leader didn't give his decision even after his lawyers met him at the central jail on Thursday. Then on Friday morning, two magistrates met him at the jail but didn't disclose the meeting's outcome to the media.
Neither the government nor the jail authorities would clearly say anything about the time of execution.
Things started to change fast on Friday evening when State Minister for Home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the Jamaat leader wouldn't be given any more time to seek clemency.
Around the same time, security was beefed up in front of the central jail. Movement of vehicles near the jail area was also restricted.
But the death sentence couldn't be executed reportedly for lack of preparation.
The state minister hinted that Kamaruzzaman might be hanged yesterday.
Since yesterday morning, there had been indications that the war criminal would be executed by last night. Tight security was in place in the capital and elsewhere.
Around 2:45pm, the execution order reached the jail authorities from the home ministry. In the evening, Kamaruzzaman's family members met him at the jail.
Finally, Kamaruzzaman was hanged at 10:30pm, touching off an outburst of celebrations across the country.
[Shaheen Mollah and Rafiul Islam contributed to this report]