Dhaka: The past BNP-Jamaat government had tried to protect the main suspect of the 2004 grenade attack that targeted the then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, an ex-intelligence official said today, as Bangladesh observed the 9th anniversary of the incident that left 24 people dead.
"HuJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad) chief Mufty Abdul Hannan had confessed his involvement in the attack in our interrogation but we could not get his statement recorded in the court," RAB`s former deputy director Major (retd) Atiqur Rahman told a Dhaka court.
He added former premier Khaleda Zia`s elder son Tarique Rahman and the then state minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar directed the RAB not to expose detained chief of the outlawed Islamist outfit on the grenade attack charges.
Hasina, the prime target of the assassination plot, narrowly escaped the attack with permanent hearing impairment while the dead included the party`s women front chief and former President Zillur Rahman`s wife Ivy.
Over 300 people were injured as assailants exploded 13 "arges" grenades on an Awami League rally in front of the party`s central office at downtown Dhaka?s Bangabandhu Avenue.
"After returning from (a meeting at) the home ministry, my director, late Col Gulzar, commented that the state minister (Babar) did not seem to be satisfied hearing the confession of Mufty Hannan," Rahman said in his statement.
He said the RAB investigations at that time also found out that Pintu had held a meeting with the HuJI leaders at his residence and told them he would provide security and administrative help to those who would carry out the attack.
He said Babar also directed the RAB to stop manhunt for one Maulana Tazuddin, Pintu`s now fugitive brother who supplied the grenades, saying he himself would surrender, which never happened and he rather was given a safe passage to Pakistan under directives from higher political authorities.
The comments came as prosecution lawyers said they feared the trial process was unlikely to be completed within the tenure of current Awami League government as only 72 out of 491 could so far testify before the court.
"We, however, are trying to expedite the trial to ensure justice," chief prosecution lawyer Syed Rezaur Rahman told PTI while investigators said they clearly identified the "masterminds" of the attack alongside those carried it out.
But Rahman`s testimony came nearly a year after a former army general who headed the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) hinted involvement of Zia herself in the attack on her archrival.
BNP, however, had denied allegations of involvement Zia and her elder son in the 2004 attack, calling investigation reports "motivated".