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DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Security forces in Bangladesh are deliberately shooting members and supporters of opposition parties in the leg, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Thursday that compared the acts to "kneecappings" once meted out by the Irish Republican Army.
In its report, the advocacy group quoted victims as saying they had been shot in custody by security forces who then falsely said they had done so in self defence, in crossfire with armed criminals, or during violent protests.
"Security forces in Bangladesh have long killed detainees in fake 'crossfire killings', pretending the victim was killed when the authorities took him back to the scene of the crime and were attacked by one of his accomplices," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The Rapid Action Battalion, the special security force of the Bangladesh police, denied the main findings of the report that were put to it by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of publication.
"We have not seen the report yet, but if it claims so, then definitely it is false, fabricated and baseless," said Mufti Mahmud Khan, a director and the spokesman of the unit.
Human rights groups have accused the Bangladeshi authorities of carrying out extra-judicial killings, disappearances and detaining suspects without charge and denying them access to a lawyer.
Khan rejected these, saying that his special security force arrested or detained people only on the basis of specific allegations and evidence.
"We investigate the allegations with due legal process and also follow the legal norms and accordingly we take follow up measures as per country's law," Khan said.
Bangladesh, a South Asian nation of 160 million, is contending with a wave of attacks on foreigners, free thinkers and members of religious minorities by Islamist militants that it says are homegrown.
Security experts and Western governments see a direct link between some recent attacks - including on a Dhaka cafe on July 1 that killed 22 hostages and police - and global jihadi groups like Islamic State.
The 45-page Human Rights Watch report calls on Bangladesh to order prompt, impartial and independent probes into all alleged kneecappings and the deliberate infliction of other serious injuries by the security forces.
The rights group also called on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and U.N. special rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial executions to be allowed to investigate alleged acts of torture.
Adams also called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina "to make it clear that Bangladesh security forces cannot get away with killing and maiming citizens simply because they support the wrong political party".
The report includes evidence from 25 individuals, mostly members and supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami, who said police shot them in the leg without provocation.
Several were permanently disabled, including some who underwent amputations after being shot. Most victims were unwilling to be identified, fearing arrest, disappearance, torture, or extrajudicial killing.
One quoted a police officer telling him: "I have shot in your leg. If you speak out, then next time I will shoot in your eyes."
Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Douglas Busvine