-19 including Babar, Pintu get death
- Tarique Rahman, Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad and 17 others get life
- Former IGPs Ashraful Huda and Shahudul Haque get 4yrs
- Security heightened in and around Dhaka court
- 31 accused brought to Dhaka from Kashimpur
It was a well-orchestrated plan, executed through abuse of state power, a special court has ruled, delivering verdicts in the two cases filed over the grenade attack on an Awami League rally 14 years ago.
And all the accused, including BNP Senior Vice Chairman Tarique Rahman and former top intelligence officials, were found guilty and handed down various punishments for the bombing that killed 24 people and injured scores.
In the murder case, Tarique and 18 others were sentenced to life in prison while former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar and 18 others were given death penalty on charges of killing through criminal conspiracy.
All of these 38 accused were also sentenced to life term imprisonment for causing grievous injuries to the survivors.
The special court also found Tarique, Babar and 36 others guilty in the case filed under the explosives substance act and handed down punishments ranging from death sentence to 20 years in prison.
The conviction of these once influential politicians, former top officials of police, DGFI, NSI, CID and top Huji militants exposes the meticulously-devised plan and abuse of state machinery to not only carry out the attack, but also to mislead the investigation.
The latest conviction of Tarique, which comes just months before the national election, is likely to deal a heavy blow to the BNP.
In February this year, Tarique and his mother Khaleda Zia were sentenced to 10 years in the Zia Orphanage Trust corruption case. Khaleda is in jail since February 8 in this case, and is struggling to secure bail.
Tarique, who has been living in London since September 2008, was also sentenced to seven years in jail in a money laundering case in 2016.
With Khaleda in jail, he is now acting as the BNP chief.
Yesterday's verdicts, pronounced in a packed courtroom amid tight security, highlighted the abuse of the state power to carry out the attack on the afternoon of August 21, 2004, on Bangabandhu Avenue.
"The specialised deadly Arges grenades that are used in wars were blasted at the Awami League's central office on 23 Bangabandhu Avenue in broad daylight with the help of the then state machinery," said Judge Shahed Nuruddin of Speedy Trial Tribunal-1.
"The prosecution has been able to prove that the accused held meetings to conspire in different places before the incident and blasted grenades in a planned manner,” he said.
After the assassination of the Father of the Nation on August 15, 1975, four national leaders were murdered inside the jail as part of a conspiracy. But the conspiracy did not stop there, it rather continued, the court noted.
"Later, an evil effort was made to make the Awami League leaderless on August 21, 2004."
Quoting the testimony of prosecution witness Abdur Rashid, who was junior vice president of Al-Markazul Islami Bangladesh, the court said accused Sheikh Farid, Hannan, Abu Taher, Tajuddin and the witness himself went to Hawa Bhaban, known to be the alternative centre of power, in Banani in mid-August of 2004 on a microbus.
A little later Tarique showed up there, reads the judgment.
In his confessional statement, Hannan also said they went to Hawa Bhaban on a microbus of Al-Markazul Islami Bangladesh and met Tarique, Haris, Babar, Mojaheed, Rezzakul and Rahim there.
They were assured of all kinds of administrative support in the meeting when Tarique told them to carry out the plan and be in touch with Babar and Pintu, according to the verdict.
The prime target of the attack was AL President Sheikh Hasina, then opposition leader. But Hasina, now the prime minister, narrowly survived as some of her party leaders protected her by forming a human shield around her. She, however, suffered injuries to her ear.
CHARGES AND PUNISHMENTS
Then state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, former deputy minister for education Abdus Salam Pintu, former director of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Brig Gen (retd) Rezzaqul Haider, former DG of National Security Intelligence (NSI) Brig Gen (retd) Abdur Rahim and 15 others were found guilty on charges of killing through common intention, planning and criminal conspiracy. They were each sentenced to death and fined Tk 1 lakh.
On the same charges, Tarique; Abul Harris Chowdhury, political secretary to the then prime minister Khaleda Zia; Kazi Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, a BNP lawmaker at the time; and 16 others were given life terms. They were also fined Tk 50,000 each. If they fail to pay the fine, the convicts will have to serve an additional year in jail.
Tarique, Babar and 36 others, who were given either death penalty or life term, have also been found guilty of other charges. Each of them was sentenced to life imprisonment for causing grievous injuries through common intention, planning and criminal conspiracy. They were also fined Tk 50,000 each over these charges.
In the explosives case, Babar and 18 others, who were given death penalty in the murder case, were also found guilty of killing by throwing and exploding grenades and abetting in committing the offences. Each of them was given death sentence in this case as well and fined Tk 1 lakh.
For the same offence, Tarique and 18 others, who got life term in the murder case, have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Each of them was also fined Tk 50,000.
Also in the explosives case, Tarique, Babar and 36 other accused were found guilty of grievously injuring victims through common intention, planning and criminal conspiracy. Each of them was sentenced to jail for 20 years with a fine of Tk 50,000.
OTHER CONVICTS IN THE KILLING CASE
Former Inspectors General of Police (IGP) Ashraful Huda and Shahudul Haque were sentenced to two years in jail and fined Tk 50,000 for harbouring the offenders. They will have to serve six months more in prison if they fail to pay.
The court handed down the same punishment to the two former top cops for protecting the offenders.
Lt Commander (retd) Saiful Islam Duke, also nephew of Khaleda; Saiful Islam Joarder, former DGFI official (sacked); and Maj Gen (retd) ATM Amin, former top DGFI official, were also given four years in jail in two counts -- two years for each -- for harbouring and protecting the offenders.
Another former IGP Khoda Baksh, SP of CID Ruhul Amin and ASPs of CID Abdur Rashid and Munshi Atikur Rahman were found guilty of misleading the investigation and cooking up the “Joj Mia” story. They too were sentenced to two years in jail each.
They were also sentenced to three years in prison for failing to investigate the attack properly.
All convicts will serve their jail terms concurrently.
The convicts were given a month to appeal. The jail term of the fugitives will start from the day of their arrest or surrender.
THE ATTACK AND THE AFTERMATH
Hasina was the last speaker of the rally, which was organised, among other things, to protest against violence and terrorism.
As soon she ended her speech and posed for photos at the requests of journalists, grenades started raining down all around.
A day after the attack, police filed a case with Motijheel Police Station against unnamed people.
A few months later, senior CID officials made up the farcical “Joj Mia” story and detained the man from Noakhali along with 20 petty criminals.
Joj Mia and two others were forced to give statements confessing their “involvement” in carrying out the attack, investigations later found.
The actual identities of the detainees were later revealed by the media and the ludicrous nature of the investigation was exposed by the end of 2004.
After the caretaker government took office, the CID submitted two separate charge sheets in June 2007, accusing 22 people, including Huji chief Mufti Hannan and Abdus Salam Pintu.
The trial began after charges were framed against them in October that year and the court recorded testimonies of 61 prosecution witnesses.
But, following the prosecution's petition, the court in August 2009 ordered further investigation and a new investigation officer was assigned.
The CID in July 2011 submitted supplementary charge sheet, accusing 30 more people, including Tarique and Babar, taking the total number of accused to 52.
DAY OF JUSTICE
The trial proceedings lasted 1,754 days. Finally on September 18, the court fixed the date for delivering the verdict yesterday.
Security in and around the court was tight centring on the verdict. Hundreds of law enforcers, police and Rab, were deployed on Nazim Uddin Road, where the special court is located.
A microbus carrying Lutfozzaman Babar reached the court premise around 11:20am. Babar, in a white shirt and grey trousers, walked to the first floor of the building where the court was set up.
After a while, the remaining 30 accused were brought in by two prison vans.
The court sat at 11:40am. A minute later, the power went off. Amid the blackout, the judge gave a short speech, thanking the prosecution, defence, journalists and law enforcers.
With flashlight of mobile phone, the judge started reading out the summary of the verdict at 11:50am, mentioning the 14 points he took into consideration to reach the verdict. Then an emergency light (charger light) was placed in the courtroom.
The accused were standing in the dock at one side of the courtroom.
As the judge left the courtroom at 12:22pm, the convicts spoke to each other and to their lawyers. However, the Huji members seemed nonchalant.
Lutfozzaman Babar spoke to some reporters at the courtroom and claimed he was implicated in the case for political reasons.
"I leave it to the almighty. Allah will try those who implicated me in the false and politically-motivated case," he said.
Babar's lawyer SM Shahjahan told The Daily Star that they were aggrieved and would appeal before the High Court.
The prosecution will consider its next move after receiving the full text of the judgment.
"We appealed for maximum punishment for all, but the court saw it fit to hand down death penalty to some and life sentence to others," Syed Rezaur Rahman, chief prosecutor of the cases, told reporters.
"We will offer our reactions after analysing the full text of the verdict," he said. "We will also decide on filing an appeal after going through the full text."
Some survivors and family members of those killed said they were not fully satisfied as Tarique was not given the highest punishment although he was the mastermind.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government would seek “greater punishment” for Tarique.