DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) – The Bangladesh military said Thursday it foiled a plot by a group of hardline officers, their retired colleagues and Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad to overthrow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The coup attempt underscored tension between Hasina’s government and elements of the military that has lingered since a 2009 mutiny.
Brig. Gen. Muhammad Masud Razzaq told a news conference the military has specific evidence that up to 16 current and former Bangladeshi military officers “with extreme religious views” were involved in the “heinous conspiracy.”
The plot was instigated by Bangladeshi conspirators living abroad, he added.
Two retired officers _ Lt. Col. Ehsan Yusuf and Maj. Zakir _ have been arrested, Razzaq said, but he did not say when. Authorities are also looking for another fugitive serving officer, Maj. Ziaul Haq, he said.
He said Haq fled his post after the arrest of Yusuf and Zakir.
In 2009, just two months after Hasina took office after sweeping a general election, Bangladesh border guards mutinied over complaints over pay, perks and promotion prospects. At least 74 military commanders were killed, many of them the commanders of the mutineers.
Military officials were furious with Hasina for not ordering an assault on the compound, but instead ending the standoff by offering an amnesty to the mutineers that was later rescinded.
Since then, the military has been pressing for an early trial of the mutineers. Hasina’s government is trying more than 800 border guards on charges of killing, arson and looting in Dhaka. Hundreds who mutinied at locations outside the capital have been tried already and sentenced to prison.
It’s not clear why the alleged coup participants are being described as religious fanatics. Hasina banned Islamic militant groups after taking office in 2009 and has warned in recent speeches that such groups are “conspiring against her elected government.”
Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy since 1990, has witnessed two presidents slain in military coups and 19 other failed coup attempts.
Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding leader of Bangladesh, was assassinated in the country’s first military coup in 1975.
Another coup in 1981 killed army general-turned-president Ziaur Rahman, husband of ex-prime minister and Hasina’s main rival Khaleda Zia.
The country’s last military ruler, Gen. Hussain Mohammad Ershad, was ousted in 1990 in a pro-democracy movement led jointly by Hasina and Zia.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)