A man who allegedly tried to storm the cockpit of a Biman flight was killed in a commando operation at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram yesterday evening after all passengers were evacuated safely.
The airport was closed after Flight BG-147 made an emergency landing at 5:41pm. The pilot had informed the control tower about the situation eight minutes prior to landing.
The Boeing 737-800, bound for Dubai via Chattogram, was carrying 143 passengers and seven crew members. It was immediately surrounded by members of the army, navy, SWAT and Rab while four fire engines were on standby.
Tang, a business-class passenger, said the suspect tried to go inside the cockpit about 20 minutes after take-off from Dhaka at 5:13pm. He knocked on the cockpit door several times and asked the crew members to open it.
“He said he wanted to hijack the plane. He then fired three shots at the cockpit door but could not get in,” the Malaysian national told The Daily Star at the Chattogram airport.
According to an ISPR press release, the crew members tactfully took the passengers out of the plane while the suspect remained inside holding a cabin crew member hostage.
Several passengers claimed that one crew member was shot while another was injured during the evacuation. Officials, however, claimed that nobody was injured.
General Officer Commanding Maj Gen SM Matiur Rahman of 24th Infantry Division during a briefing after the commando operation, which was launched around 7:20pm, said the “so-called hijacker” wanted to talk to the prime minister and his wife.
Air Vice-Marshal Mofidul Haque, who was negotiating with the suspect from the control tower, said the suspect introduced himself as Mahadi, a Bangladeshi citizen in his mid 20s, during the conversation.
Later, the civil aviation ministry sources told this newspaper that the suspect, a Dubai expatriate Bangladeshi named Majidul Haq Mahadi, came to Dhaka on November 20 last year and was a passenger on the Dubai-bound flight.
“He [the suspect] did not intend to do any harm to any passengers … We kept him busy talking over the phone,” said Mofidul at the press briefing.
“The suspect had held the cabin crew hostage. At one stage of the negotiation, our air force members managed to bring them out.”
However, the ISPR release later said the alleged hijacker was able to hold a crew member hostage.
During the briefing, Maj Gen Matiur said a para-commando unit of the army, who was on another duty at BNS Issa Khan, was called in around 6:00pm.
“They launched an eight-minute operation in which the armed man was shot.”
The commandos were led by Lt Col Imrul, who was also at the helm of the operation that ended the Holey Artisan siege in 2016, he added.
“The commandos first asked him to surrender but he was aggressive. As he refused to give himself up and intended to attack, the commandos went for action and he got injured in the ensuing shootout.”
The ISPR release said the bullet-hit man was brought out and taken to an on-duty doctor, who declared him dead.
“The only demand he [the suspect] had made during the conversation was that he wanted to talk with the honourable prime minister and his wife,” Matiur said.
The official said they could not know what he wanted to say to the prime minister. “There was no scope to talk to him any further as we sought to end the incident within the shortest possible time.”
He added that they were worried that the suspect could harm the crew member onboard. “Our pilot initially thought him [the suspect] to be a foreigner but he was basically a Bangladeshi … He had a pistol. We did not find anything else in the plane.”
There was no damage to the aircraft and it was declared safe for takeoff after scrutiny, he added.
The airport was opened at 8:00pm, said Mofidul.
It remains a mystery how a passenger got onboard a plane with a weapon despite at least two tiers of body checking.
“We will investigate how he boarded the plane with a firearm,” said Air Vice-Marshal M Naim Hassan, chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh while briefing reporters at his office in Dhaka.
He said they had heard that the suspect had a jacket on with wires sticking out of it.
A probe committee will be formed to find out how it happened and whether anyone was negligent in discharging duty, he added.
Later at night, State Minister for Civil Aviation Ministry Md Mahbub Ali at a TV talk-show at a private television channel said he came to know that the hijacker was carrying a “toy gun”.
Besides, Commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police Md Mahbubor Rahman said it was a “fake pistol”. Asked whether he saw it, the officer only said, “You can quote me on this. It's a fake pistol.”
The civil aviation ministry in an updated press release in the early hours of today said it has formed a five-member investigation committee.
As of 10:00pm, several Chattogram-bound flights were stuck at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
WHAT PASSENGERS SAID
Mohammad Reza, a passenger of the flight, said he heard a gunshot inside the plane 20 minutes after it took off from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
“We heard a gun fire in business class,” he said.
Soon afterwards, a cabin crew member, who was bleeding, was seen running towards the rear end of the plane applying pressure on the wound on his arm, he added.
“At that time the flight was bumpy … passengers were shouting and yelling and the children were crying,” said Dr Sharmin, another passenger.
A passenger named Md Russell got hurt in one of his heels when he jumped to the ground from an emergency exit. He was seen crying at the airport unattended at 8:00pm.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Chattogram to open the construction work of two big projects and returned to Dhaka later in the day.
Replying to queries, officials said the hijacking bid had nothing to do with the prime minister's tour.
On September 28, 1977, a hijacked Japan Airlines aircraft with 156 people, including 14 crew members, on board landed at the Tejgaon Airport.
Five armed members of the Japanese Red Army led by Osamu Maruoka had hijacked the Paris to Tokyo DC-8 aircraft soon after it took off from Bombay after a short stopover.
After a 105-hour-long hostage drama the hijackers released 130 passengers and left Dhaka with 26 passengers. They later landed in Algiers, the capital of Algeria and the released the rest 26 passengers on November 1.
Shariful Islam, Mostafa Yousuf, Mohammad Suman, Rafiul Islam, Muntakim Saad, and Rashidul Islam contributed to this report.