Opposition BNP chief Khaleda Zia's fugitive son and political heir Tarique Rahman were sentenced to life and 19 others, including a former home minister, were given death penalty by a Bangladesh court Wednesday for their role in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2004.
An attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004, targeted Hasina, the then opposition leader when she was about to finish a speech in front of thousands of supporters.
While Hasina survived the attack with a partial hearing loss, her party's women front chief and former president Zillur Rahman's wife Ivy Rahman was killed in the blasts.
Special court Judge Shahed Nuruddin awarded the death penalty to 19 people including former junior home minister Lutfuzzaman Babar, ex-deputy education minister Abdus Salam Pintu and several former army intelligence officers.
Rahman and 18 others were sentenced to life. Eleven others were jailed for different terms.
"They (who are sentenced to death) will be hanged by the neck until they are dead," Justice Nuruddin said.
Thirty-one of the 49 convicts were present in the court while others including 51-year-old Rahman, now the acting BNP chairman as his mother is serving a five-year imprisonment in a graft case, are on the run abroad to evade justice.
Rahman was tried in absentia with the court declaring him a "fugitive". He now lives in London where he is believed to have sought asylum through the British authorities have declined to reveal his immigration status.
He leads the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) from exile after Zia was jailed in February. Zia was not made an accused in the case.
Rahman, two former ministers and former top police and intelligence officials of the then BNP-led four-party alliance government were among 49 accused in the case.
The judge also made 12-point observations on the background, motive and consequences of the attack, mainly targeting incumbent Hasina.
"The attack was intended to eliminate the Awami League leadership, including Sheikh Hasina," the judge ruled.
The court had wrapped up the hearing on September 18 after a protracted investigation and trial process.
Investigations found an influential quarter of the then BNP-led government, including Rahman, masterminded and sponsored the attackers -- the operatives of militant Harkatul Jihad al Islami (HuJI).
Commenting on the verdict, BNP secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir expressed the party's deep frustration saying it was a "politically motivated" verdict. "It's a naked expression of political vengeance," he added.
However, Law Minister Anisul Huq said Rahman, the mastermind of the attack, deserved the death sentence.
His Cabinet colleague and the ruling Awami League general secretary Obaidul Qader echoed him, saying "we are not fully satisfied with the verdict".
"We may take steps to challenge his (Rahman's) lenient punishment once we get the copy of the entire judgment," Huq said.
Those who were sentenced to death were fined Taka one lakh each. The High Court must confirm their death penalty after a mandatory review.
Other political figures, who were given life sentence include former prime minister Zia's political adviser Haris Chowdhury and former BNP lawmaker Qazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad.
Law enforcement agencies earlier covered Dhaka with a security blanket while armed guards stood outside the courtroom in the old part of Dhaka to quell possible protests.
A key-accused in the case, HuJI chief Mufty Abdul Hannan, was dropped from the convict list along with two of his associates as they were hanged by now after a trial in a separate case.
"We are taking steps to bring back the fugitive convicts," Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters as the verdict was announced.
The verdict comes ahead of the parliamentary elections in December. Zia's party had boycotted the 2014 elections.
(With inputs from agencies.)