`Kheleda knew of 2004 grenade attack plot targeting Hasina`

A former chief of Bangladesh`s premier military intelligence agency claimed that ex-Prime Minister Kheleda Zia knew beforehand the 2004 grenade attack plot.

Dhaka: A former chief of Bangladesh`s premier military intelligence agency Monday claimed that ex-Prime Minister Kheleda Zia knew beforehand the 2004 grenade attack plot mainly targeting the then leader of Opposition Sheikh Hasina.

The assailants hurled 13 "arges" grenades at an Awami League rally in downtown Dhaka on August 21 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.

"I understood the Prime Minister (Kheleda) knew everything beforehand," Maj Gen (retd) Sadik Hassan Rumi, ex-DG of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, told the Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 appearing as a crucial prosecution witness.

Rumi told the court that soon after the attack he instantly informed the incident to Kheleda.

He said he was denied permission for investigating into the attack and recalled Kheleda appeared annoyed and virtually rebuked him as he wanted to talk to her on the attack issue and subsequent investigations.

Judge Shehed Nuruddin recorded Rumi`s statement that took one and half hours to be delivered while prosecution lawyers said he was the 65th witness to testify before the court.

"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 with annoyance as he tried to confirm a report that she herself ordered his safe passage abroad.

The ex-intelligence chief`s testimony came as the trial of the grisly attack was underway with the court indicting a number of high-profile suspects including Zia`s "fugitive" elder son and BNP`s senior vice president Tarique Rahman as a mastermind.

Rumi said a senior DGFI official "who used to maintain direct link with Rahman and Babar defying the agency`s norm and my advice" received direct instruction from Babar to destroy the grenades beyond his knowledge.

He said two other DGFI officials some days after the incident came to him and said they received orders from the prime minister through the then state minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar and Zia`s nephew and political aide Saiful Islam Duke to arrange Tajuddin`s safe passage to Pakistan.

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.

Zia, however, has not been made an accused in the case.

The court fixed November 11 for the next date of hearing when the defence lawyers are expected to cross examine Rumi.

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