Dhaka- The head of Bangladesh largest Islamist party was sentenced to death today for war crimes committed during the independence war in 1971.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, 71, faced 16 charges including genocide, murder, torture and rape. A state prosecutor said the sentence reflected the "gravity of the crimes".

There are different estimates for the number of people killed in the nine-month Bangladeshi war. Government figures suggest as many as three million people died.

A war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh with a three-judge panel announced the verdict to a packed courtroom in Dhaka. Higher security measures were in place across Dhaka as previous decisions by the tribunal have sparked street clashes.

Nizami, who was head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was accused of leading a militia which committed human rights violations.

"Considering the gravity of the crimes, the tribunal punished him with the death sentence," State prosecutor Mohammad Ali told.