By Rajeev Sharma
The mystery surrounding the plot to kill Sheikh Hasina in 2004 is unraveling now after years of farce in the name of investigation. Sheikh Hasina’s persona as daughter of the country’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and as the sole repository of the legacy of liberation war values was perceived as the only impediment blocking BNP-JEI Alliance’s bid to return to power. Hence the need to eliminate her before the elections arose.
Hasina has earlier survived at least three attempts on her life and members of the BNP-JEI government were complicit in all these attempts. BNP-JEI Alliance virtually patronized all radical Islamic groups and pro-Pak forces to establish a strangle hold over the country.
Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI) founder Mufti Abdus Salam, one of the prime accused in the August 21, 2004 grenade attack on Awami League (AL) rally in Dhaka, has disclosed sensational information about the plot to assassinate Sheikh Hasina who was addressing the rally when the attack was carried out. Salam said that after Sheikh Hasina escaped grenade attack on the day, senior BNP leader and former Deputy Minister Abdus Salam Pintu’s brother Maulana Tajuddin, who was head of the Bangladesh chapter of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was severely reprimanded and ridiculed for failing to accomplish the mission of killing Sheikh Hasina.
Several BNP bigwigs including former Deputy Minister Abdus Salam Pintu, former State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar and other high-ups in the Hawa Bhavan as well as some high ranking officials of the country’s premier intelligence agencies made no secret of their disappointment and displeasure at Maulana Tajuddin’s failure to execute the assignment and kill Sheikh Hasina. They summoned Maulana Tajuddin at Hawa Bhavan and gave him a ‘dressing down’ as killing Sheikh Hasina was a high profile assignment given to him.
Two hundred ‘Arges’ grenades (normally used in battle fronts to inflict maximum damage) were brought from Pakistan for this specific purpose by a Pakistani LeT activist Majid Butt and given to Maulana Tajuddin who retained 100 for carrying out the attack on Sheikh Hasina, while the remaining 100 grenades were handed over to the Kashmiri militants.
HUJI leader Mufti Abdus Salam stayed in Pakistan for about four months prior to the attack in order to mobilize support of some specific Pakistani quarters in this regard. He said that arrangements were made for Maulana Tajuddin’s stay inside the Dhaka office of the intelligence agency that was close to the venue of the rally and the Hasina killing mission was kept a close guarded secret. Several rounds of secret meetings were held at the Badda residence of HUJI commander Mufti Abdul Hannan, Salam’s own residence at Mohammadpur and Dhaka office of the intelligence agency to chalk out details of the plan and how it would be carried out.
The final meeting, however, took place at Hawa Bhavan in Dhaka, ahead of the attack and it was attended among others by Maulana Fazlur Rahman Khalil, leader of the Pakistan based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mojahid, Secretary General of Bangladesh JEI and former Minister. The attack on Sheikh Hasina was carried out after getting ‘green signal’ from Hawa Bhavan, added Salam. Towards the end of BNP-JEI government’s tenure in 2006, officials of the intelligence agencies hurriedly arranged for Maulana Tajuddin’s passport and sent him to Pakistan so that the BNP-JEI government’s involvement in the plot to kill Shekh Hasina remains shrouded forever.
It has now been established that the grenade attack was the outcome of collaboration between HUJI, influential leaders of the BNP and JEI, and officials of the home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
Those involved in the plot included former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s elder son and BNP Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman, her nephew Saiful Islam Duke, the then State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar, four other BNP leaders and JEI leader Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mojahid who was also a Minister at the time. Among others, three are former IGPs, two senior ex-NSI officials, three senior former CID officials, two ex-senior police officials and three former high-ranking officials of the army and the navy. This also gives an overview of the extent of politicization of administration during the preceding BNP-JEI regime.
HUJI leaders met Tarique Rahman, BNP Senior Vice Chairman at Hawa Bhavan, widely considered as alternative power center during BNP-JEI rule, ahead of the August 21 grenade attack in 2004 and got the go-ahead to carry out the blasts. Lutfozzaman Babar, then State Minister for Home, Harris Chowdhury, Political Secretary to then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid, Secretary General of JEI, then NSI Director General Brig Gen Abdur Rahim and DGFI Director Brig Gen Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury also attended the meeting. In the meeting HUJI leaders sought government support in executing their plans to assassinate Sheikh Hasina and Tarique assured them of an all-out support.
On August 18, three days before the attack, the HUJI leaders met Babar at the residence of former BNP Deputy Minister Abdus Salam Pintu. Owner of Hanif transport Mohammad Hanif and BNP Ward Commissioner Ariful Islam Arif were present there. Babar and Pintu assured the militant leaders that Hanif and Arif would help them in every way and that “they would receive all administrative assistance.” The Arges grenades used in the attack were smuggled in from Pakistan. Pintu’s brother Tajuddin had supplied the grenades that were taken to Mufti Hannan’s Badda residence from Pintu’s Dhanmondi residence on August 20.
The then Dhaka Metropolitan Police commissioner Ashraful Huda, who later went on to become the Inspector General of Police, went abroad on the day of the attack without ordering adequate security arrangements for the AL rally. On his return, he did not take any punitive steps against the law enforcers who were negligent in their duties on the rally venue.
The then IGP Shahudul Haque purposely did not update himself on security measures at the rally venue. He did not even visit the scene after the attack, though it was only 500 yards from his office. He also did not give any directives to identify or arrest the perpetrators.
MaulanaTajuddin who carried out the attack was provided with a fake passport with the name “Badal”. Khaleda’s nephew and Private Secretary Saiful Islam Duke, Duke’s brother-in-law and DGFI official Lt Col Saiful Islam Joarder, and another DGFI high-up Maj Gen ATM Amin helped Tajuddin flee the country on October 10, 2006.
Through several investigations, the BNP-JEI Alliance government relentlessly tried to establish that the AL itself had carried out the attack and killed its own activists to tarnish the BNP led government’s image. It also tried to prove that “foreign enemies” instigated the carnage, and some listed criminals holed up in India had taken part in the attack. Following international outcry, the then BNP led Government asked for help from the FBI and Interpol, but findings of these international agencies were not made public.
To give a new twist to the grenade attack, one man Judicial Inquiry Commission headed by Justice Mohd Joynul Abedin was formed to investigate into the attack. But findings of the Commission were not made public as these were doctored and lacked credibility. The report submitted to the government by the commission, in its executive summary, claimed to have determined the masterminds behind the attack. In a veiled reference to India, it identified these masterminds as a powerful intelligence agency of a “big foreign power” that had actively helped the emergence of Bangladesh by “cessation” from Pakistan. The report concluded that evidence pointed to the involvement of a “powerful foreign intelligence agency” which had created divisions among the people of Bangladesh on the lines of secularism and non secularism” as well as on the lines of “pro-liberation and anti liberation”.
The investigators also made up a story involving Mokhlesur Rahman, an AL leader and former ward commissioner of Moghbazar in the capital. They also attempted to feed the public with another story woven around one Joj Mia, a drug addict and petty criminal. Joj Mia was made to make a confessional statement naming Mokhlesur as one of the plotters.
During the BNP-JEI rule till October 2006, the investigators were out to divert the probe into a wrong direction to protect the real culprits. The BNP led government sent the case in a cold storage. The CID did not submit any charge sheets though leaders in the then government claimed several times that the probe was about to be completed and everything would be revealed.
(The writer is a New Delhi based journalist-author and strategic analyst who can be reached at [email protected])