A survivor of a 1971 Islamist killing spree in Bangladesh tearfully told a war crimes tribunal Monday that he saw a man who would go on to lead the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) giving orders during the kidnapping, torture and murder of intellectuals.
Delwar Hossain, 70, provided a dramatic eyewitness account against Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who remains on the executive board of ICNA’s New York chapter and is a leader of the North American Imams Federation.
Prosecutors allege that Khan was the “chief executor” of a killing squad loyal to the Pakistani army during the closing days of Bangladesh’s war of independence. It targeted intellectuals to rob the newly-liberated nation of leadership. Khan and prominent U.K. imam Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin are being tried in absentia. Court-appointed defense attorneys are cross examining witnesses.
Hossain, the 22nd witness against Khan, is considered the only survivor of the attacks. He said that he saw Khan and Mueen-Uddin when he was kidnapped and heard them address each other by name. Later, he heard another captive beg for Khan to spare his as the bound and blindfolded prisoners were stabbed with bayonets.
Khan walked away, Hossain testified.
Hossain was able to free his hands and adjust his blindfold to see what was happening around him. He said he soaked his shirt in another victim’s blood in hopes of fooling his captors into believing he already had been tortured. He showed the war crimes tribunal a scar on his head from the beatings he endured that day.
He took off running and made his escape by swimming in the nearby river as gunmen fired at him. “I was adamant to be killed by shooting. I did not want to be killed by bayonets,” Hossain said.
Hossain identified several other victims he saw at the killing site. Most of the other witnesses against Khan and Mueen-Uddin have been living relatives, who have testified about seeing their loved ones taken away at gunpoint similar to what Hossain described.
“I witnessed the killings from the beginning to the end,” Hossain testified. “Ashraf [Khan] and Mueen [Uddin] led the killings.”
It is not clear what the United States would do about Khan, a naturalized citizen, if he is convicted. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reportedly offered to assist Bangladesh’s government in trying to repatriate Khan.