Conspiracy hatched for the dark night
It was not any quick decision to exterminate Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family by some hot-headed army officers, but a long drawn plan that was known to some top political leaders and senior army officers, as the boastful descriptions of the August 15, 1975 carnage by self-confessed killers testify.
Their descriptions of the event however differ from the witnesses on many counts as they apparently tried to shift their responsibility.
Syed Farooqur Rahman and Khandaker Abdur Rashid, the two masterminds of the killings, were interviewed by famous journalist Anthony Mascarenhas on ITV. The Guardian of London also ran a story written by another journalist Lawrence Lifschultz, with interviews of the killers. The perpetrators also wrote about their well hatched plan in their book titled 'Muktir Poth' or 'The Road to Freedom'.
Farooq told Anthony that he had been thinking of assassinating Mujib back in 1974.
"I decided that he [Mujib] should go, but then in March 1974 I was until then a purely professional soldier. I did not have any political understanding and one thing I did not know, was that if you removed him what would happen, what would be the reaction. I had to talk," Farooq said.
Once set on removing Mujib, the young army officers had to find someone to put in his place.
"The first obvious choice was General Zia [Ziaur Rahman, then the deputy chief of army staff and a major general], because at least he was not tarnished," Farooq told the television channel.
"So after a lot of arrangements I managed to see him on March 20, 1975 in the evening. General Zia said, 'I am a senior officer. I cannot be involved in such things. If you junior officers want to do it, go ahead'," he added.
Farooq elaborated that he had a stroll in the lawn with Zia and told him that the country was going to the dogs.
"We have to change it. We, the junior officers, have already worked it out. We want your support and your leadership," Farooq told ITV, as saying to Zia in the lawn.
In reply Zia said he was sorry that he could not get involved in anything like that. "If you want to do something, the junior officers should do it themselves," Zia was quoted by Farooq.
Zia then told his aide-de-camp that Farooq was not to be given any more appointment with him. Being turned away by Zia and also being assured that he would not intervene in any plan, the killers then went head hunting for a politician they finally found in Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed, the then commerce minister.
The killers had their first talk with him in the first week of August 1975 and subsequently they met him on August 12, 13 and 14. Moshtaque was given a briefing about the plan that 'might lead' to killing of Mujib, Abdur Rashid told the TV channel.
"He [Moshtaque] said, well, if somebody has that courage [to kill Mujib] and guts to do it, well, that's a good thing probably for the future leaders. We wanted to know that he [Moshtaque] had no programme of immediately going outside the country anywhere," Rashid added.
Colonels Farooq and Rashid were ideally placed in Dhaka to carry out the coup. Rashid commanded the 2nd Field Artillery, and Farooq led the Bengal Lancers, the tank regiment.
With the coup in mind, the two army men started in March a series of night training for the units, twice a month. That they did as a camouflage for the troops movement on the night of the coup, because they thought any sudden unscheduled movement of soldiers on the night of the operation might be noticed.
The killers scheduled a night time training for the night of August 14. Their weapons were 28 tanks, eighteen 105mm guns, and 700 men that they had put together. One of the major concerns for them was about 3,000 members of the Rakkhi Bahini, a paramilitary force that Mujib had formed, stationed in Dhaka and armed with light weapons.
But the killers were hell bent on their targets. Their forces were divided into three teams -- one each to attack the home of Sheikh Mujib, his brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat, and his nephew Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni. The teams were led by six young officers who had recently been discharged from the army.
"Killing Sheikh Mujib, Serniabat [Mujib's nephew's father-in-law] and Sheikh Moni [Mujib's nephew], I was 99 percent sure," Farooq told the TV. "What I was not sure was the aftermath. For that I used the tanks as a psychological threat."
But the killers had one big drawback. They had no shell in the tanks.
"I did not expect that everybody would have common knowledge that we did not have ammunition. It was a game of sheer bluff," Farooq said.
But when Farooq rolled his tank to the Second Capital area, he found that the other 27 tanks were not following him. So Farooq rammed through the brick wall of Tejgaon Airport and found a brigade of Rakkhi Bahini lined up in full battle gear.
Farooq's tank driver was nervous and asked for instruction.
"I said, you drive past right six inches in front of their nose. Told the gunner to keep his gun pointed towards them, and told the rest of them to look brave. Those chaps kept on looking at us and we kept on looking at them."
Then Farooq went on to claim that when he reached Mujib's residence, the other members of his team told him that Mujib had already been killed.
"From there I went to the radio station to check if the radio station had been seized," Farooq said adding, "At the radio station Mr Khandaker Moshtaque had declared himself president."