Before the law enforcers kicked off a joint operation at 2:37am yesterday, Additional Police Commissioner Maruf Hasan welcomed several hundred members of Rapid Action Battalion and police standing in queues opposite to Janata Bank Bhaban road at Motijheel.
“We will disperse them as they have out-lived their permitted time and now occupying the road illegally. We will arrest them if necessary. But we will not open fire unnecessarily. We are strong enough, you must keep your spirit high, we will win Inshallah,” Maruf said in his brief speech to the members of police and Rab.
The operation boss was also heard telling his fellow colleagues: “We will not use that many bullets … we will use only shotguns and teargas, but no exaggerated usage of shotguns.”
A gas grenade was thrown first at around 2:50am near the Hefajat activists' makeshift knee-high wall which they made by uprooting road dividers and roadside bricks.
The forefront police and Rab members, however, had to step back from their position for a while as the wind from opposite direction blew the gas towards them.
Around 3:00pm, Rab and policemen marched slowly towards the Hefajat men who were seen and heard singing Islamic songs and offering munajat at eight to 10 yards from the law enforcers at the Janata Bank end.
Then, with a barrage of teargas, rubber bullets, sound grenades and shotgun shells, roughly five to six hundred cops and Rab members moved slowly towards the Hefajat gathering.
Within 10 to 12 minutes, Hefajat activists who were leading the gathering left the scene, trailing colleagues running for cover.
A large number of Hefajat activists including some minor boys took shelter at Sonali Bank Bhaban and an adjacent building.
Around 3:15am, police reached the centre of the Hefajat rally -- Shapla Chattar -- where they built a makeshift stage on two trucks put across each-other.
The Daily Star correspondents witnessed over 60-70 Hefajat activists, who failed to find cover and came under indiscriminate truncheon charge by Rab and police members. Some of them suffered serious injuries as rubber bullets hit their legs, faces, chests and hands.
From FBCCI building to Dutch Bangla Bank branch and an ATM booth at Shapla Chattar intersection, The Daily Star correspondents found another seven or eight injured Hefajat-e Islam activists lying on roads and in front of an ATM booth.
Rab and police members were seen giving water to an injured. Another Rab member put some plastic sheet under the head of another injured, who suffered injuries on his face, trying to comfort him. The time was 3:20pm. When the correspondents returned to these places an hour later, there were no injured there.
When Rab and Police members reached Shapla Chattar at 3:15am, they found four bodies on planks of wood wrapped in plastic sheets.
On Sunday, one of The Daily Star correspondents, who covered the Hefajat rally standing right beside the makeshift stage from 3:00pm, had seen two bodies being brought in -- one at 6:30pm and another at 8:00pm.
After the second body was brought before the stage, a Hefajat leader declared via the microphone at 8:08pm that Shapla Chattar will be named “Shaheed Jubair Chattar”. This triggered huge excitement at the gathering.
It could not be known how and where the two people died.
A Rab official yesterday told The Daily Star that the joint operation was launched simultaneously from two ends -- one from Janata Bank end and another from Notre Dame College to flush out Hefajat activists.
At least four armoured personnel carriers and two riot trucks were also used. As part of the operation's strategy, law enforcers used sound grenades and gas grenades to frighten the Hefajat activists during the operation.
The Daily Star correspondents met many Hefajat activists who came out of Sonali Bank building and an adjacent building after the end of operation around 4:50am.
Many Hefajat activists asked The Daily Star correspondents for directions to Matuail, Mymensingh, Tangail, Jatrabari and many other places as they did not know how to get home. Many even embraced law enforcers in gratitude for not hurting them.
The number of Hefajat activists there was believed to be over one lakh around 9:00pm on Sunday but during the operation, a little over 35,000 were there. Many had left the rally before midnight and around 7:45pm when the police forced a large section to leave.
The Daily Star correspondents could not follow the operation launched from Notre Dame College end until Rab and police involved in that flank reached Shapla Chattar.
During the operation, law enforcers were seen facing almost no resistance except for incoming brick chips.
However, around 4:05am a group of Hefajat leaders, who were hiding behind the wall of People's Insurance Bhaban near Bangabhaban, swooped on a policeman when a small group of policemen was passing.
The assaulted policeman succumbed to his injury at 4:20am at Rajarbagh Police Lines Hospital, sources at the hospital said.
The operation ended around 5:00am when several hundred Hefajat activists came out of different buildings in queues, some with hands above their heads.
Some police and Rab members were also seen helping the wounded get down from roofs of different structures.