A Bangladeshi court sentenced 10 Islamic militants to death Monday for the bombing at communist party rally two decades ago that killed five people.

In January 2001 several bombs were detonated in Dhaka at a meeting of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, and police blamed the country's branch of the banned Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami (HUJI) after an investigation lasting several years.

The attack was one of several carried out by militant groups whose members were returning to Bangladesh from the Afghanistan conflict in the early 2000s.

On Monday, Dhaka city public prosecutor Abdullah Abu told AFP that 10 HUJI members had been convicted and sentenced to death.

"They carried out the bombing as part of their jihad to establish a militant government. They wanted to smear the image of the secular government and create anarchy," he said.

Bangladeshi soldiers inspect the scene of the 2001 bomb blast in Dhaka
Bangladeshi soldiers inspect the scene of the 2001 bomb blast in Dhaka AFP / JEWEL SAMAD

Two communist party members accused of involvement were acquitted.

Islamist groups have been targeting secular activists, moderate Muslims and religious minorities in Bangladesh since the 1990s.

HUJI and Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were the two most prominent outfits. Both were led by Afghan conflict veterans and were blamed for scores of deaths in bomb and grenade attacks.

The top six JMB leaders were executed in 2007 after being found guilty of synchronised bomb attacks in August 2005.

And HUJI chief Mufti Abdul Hannan and two associates were executed in April 2017 for orchestrating a 2004 attack on a Sufi shrine that killed three people and wounded the British high commissioner to Dhaka.