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Crime

Bangladesh gunmen free convicted Islamists in prison van attack

Gunmen in Bangladesh have attacked a police escort carrying convicted members of a banned Islamist group, freeing three prisoners. Two of the men had been sentenced to death, with the other facing a life sentence.

The armed attackers threw explosives and opened fire on a van containing the prisoners on Sunday, killing a police officer and taking the convicts with them.

Some 20 militants were involved in the attack, which was staged as two vehicles blocked the highway in Mymenshing district, 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka, police said.

The men had been on their way from Kashimpur jail in the Gazipur district to Mymenshing,where they were to testify in a trial separate from that in which they had been convicted. The men were members of the group Jumatul Mujahadeen Bangladesh (JMB), which aims to establish a system of strict Islamic law in the Muslim-majority nation.

The government has claimed that the group has been disbanded, with its six top leaders hanged in 2007 after the 2005 bombing of government offices and courts. In that attack, almost 500 bombs were exploded across the capital, Dhakar.

'Still active'

The latest incident is seen as evidence that the group has not been fully rooted out. "It is a clear indication that they are still active," said Police Inspector General Hassan Mahmood Khandker.

The men are believed to have been convicted in connection with the 2005 bombings. Two had been sentenced to death and the third was serving a life sentence.

By Sunday evening, police had recaptured one of the men after launching a manhunt of surrounding districts. Border patrols were placed on alert to stop the other two from fleeing the country.

rc/ipj (AFP, AP, dpa)