DHAKA: A top Islamist extremist under sentence of death has lost his last hope of avoiding the gallows after Bangladesh's president rejected a mercy plea, an official said yesterday. Bangladesh's highest court last month upheld a 2008 death sentence on Mufti Abdul Hannan and two associates for an attack on a shrine that left three people dead and injured the British high commissioner at the time.

Last month the trio wrote to President Abdul Hamid seeking clemency.   "But the president has rejected all three mercy petitions," his press secretary Joynal Abedin told AFP. Jail authorities would now go ahead with the executions, deputy inspector general of prisons Touhidul Islam told AFP. Authorities have not announced a date but the executions are expected sometime this month.

Hannan headed the Harkat-ul Jihad Al Islami (HuJI) group.  The attack on the British ambassador in 2004 was among the most high-profile of a series of assaults by the group across Bangladesh in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The decision to reject clemency comes just weeks after militants attempted to free Hannan by hurling bombs at police vans as police transferred him between prisons.

By the time Hannan was arrested in late 2005 more than 100 people had been killed in attacks by HuJI on a church, secular gatherings and mosques used by Islam's minority sects. Bangladesh has suffered a spate of attacks on secular activists, foreigners and religious minorities in recent years.  Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have claimed responsibility in some cases but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's secular government has pinned the blame on local outfits.

There has been a resurgence of Islamist extremist attacks in recent weeks, with at least three being claimed by IS.  The fatalities included the head of intelligence of an elite security force tasked with tacking Islamist militancy across the Muslim-majority country. Police and army commandos have arrested scores of suspected extremists and killed more than 60 people since an attack on a Dhaka cafe last year that left 22 dead. - AFP