'Past regime protected 2004 attackers who targeted Hasina'



Dhaka: A former chief of Bangladesh's main spy agency Sunday claimed perpetrators of the 2004 grenade attack, which mainly targeted the then leader of Opposition and current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, were protected under directives of the higher political authority.

"I was asked not to catch (arrest) them (culprits)," former Director General of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Maj Gen (retd) Sadik Hassan Rumi told a court here as the belated trial of several high-profile suspects of the attack were underway.

"There was no dearth of efforts on my part to unearth the plot (of the attack) but I was repeatedly obstructed," he said.

The assailants had hurled 13 'arges' grenades at an Awami League rally in downtown Dhaka on August 21, 2004 but Hasina narrowly escaped the attack with permanent hearing impairment while 24 people, including incumbent President Zillur Rahman's wife Ivy Rahman, were killed and some 500 injured.

Rumi reaffirmed his earlier deposition as a prosecution witness, saying the then ruling BNP's senior vice president and ex-premier Khaleda Zia's now "fugitive" elder son Tarique Rahman, ex-home minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar and leaders of the militant outfit HuJI Mufty Abdul Hannan and Maulana Tajuddin were involved the attack plot.

The comments of Rumi, who was the chief of the spy agency during the 2001-2006 BNP-led four-party regime, came as the defence counsels at the Speedy Trial Tribunal of Judge Shahed Nuruddin cross-examined him on his November 5 deposition.

He vehemently rejected a defence proposition that he gave his statement to evade wraths of the incumbent government or Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) actions on graft charges.

"I challenge you... I have not come here to testify due to any fright or allurement... I am a (1971) freedom fighter and in my whole life I have not earned anything by dishonest means, discharged my duties with utmost honesty," Rumi said.

Replying a question Rumi said being the DGFI chief he could talk to the prime minister anytime on the basis of "talking points" and he eventually informed the then premier about the attack in writing.

In his last week's testimony, Rumi had insisted Zia barred him from investigating into the attack while the ex-premier appeared annoyed and virtually rebuked him as he wanted to talk to her on the attack issue and subsequent investigations.

"From where you gathered the ridiculous information... what is your headache if Tajuddin (a key attack plotter) goes to Pakistan or anywhere else?" Rumi recalled Zia as telling him as he tried to confirm a report that she herself ordered his safe passage abroad.

The trial of the grisly attack is underway with the court indicting a number of high-profile suspects while the prosecution accused Tarique Rahman and Babar as masterminds of the attack plot. Hasina was visibly the prime target of the assassination plot.

Babar and another junior minister, Abdus Salam Pintu, former minister in the same government and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed were the political figures alongside Tarique Rahman who are being tried.

Three former police chiefs, several former military officials who were posted in DGFI at that time and several kingpins of outlawed Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) including its detained chief Mufti Abdul Hannan are among others to face the trial in person or in absentia.

Under a court order Rahman, now in London, and 19 others are being tried in absentia as they "failed" to appear and they were earlier declared "absconding" to evade justice.

Officials said out of 52 accused, 19 including Tarique Rahman and Zia's the then political assistant Haris Chowdhury are on the run, eight including three ex-IGPs are on bail and the rests including Babar is in jail.

PTI