Dhaka: A Bangladeshi court on Wednesday denied bail to 90-year-old fundamentalist leader Ghulam Azam, the alleged ‘key collaborator’ of the Pakistani junta during the country's 1971 Liberation War, in a case of crime against humanity.

"The petition (of Azam) is rejected," said chairman of the three-member International Crimes Tribunal Justice Nizamul Haque after hearing his lawyers who sought relief on grounds of his old age.

The court fixed February 15 as the date to begin Azam's trial on charges of war crimes.

Azam, who appeared at the tribunal in a wheel chair, declined to talk to the journalists after the verdict.

He was taken to jail minutes after the order. The judge pronounced the verdict upholding prosecution's plea which opposed the bail petition saying he could influence his trial process through different means if he was kept out of the prison, the court sources said.

Azam was charged with 52 cases of war crimes including a role in the notorious ‘Operation Searchlight’ by the Pakistani troops on March 25, 1971 in which the army had suddenly cracked down on unarmed people.

The tribunal had issued summon to him on January 9 asking to appear before the court in connection with the case.

Meanwhile, security in and around the old High Court complex in Dhaka was stepped up ahead of the crucial trial. Azam was former chief of the then East Pakistan wing of fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami and provincial minister under the Pakistani junta in 1971. His party had opposed country’s independence with many of its activists joining the auxiliary forces of the Pakistani troops.

Azam, who denied charges, was stripped off his nationality after he fled the country during the last phase of the Liberation War. He returned to Bangladesh in 1976 and his citizenship was restored after a legal battle.

In a recent television interview, Azam denied the charges against him, while asserting that he did not commit any act befitting an apology.

The tribunal was constituted in March last year along with the special investigation agency and a prosecution cell in line with the election pledges of the ruling Awami League to expose to trial the war criminals.

(Agencies)