The trial in the two cases filed over the grenade attack on an Awami League rally in the capital on August 21, 2004 has finally drawn to a close as a special court is set to deliver verdicts in the cases on October 10.
The Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 yesterday fixed the date after both the prosecution and the defence completed their arguments, more than 14 years after the incident that left 24 dead and scores injured.
BNP's acting chairman Tarique Rahman, two former ministers including Lutfozzaman Babar and former top police and intelligence officials of the then BNP-led four-party alliance government are among 49 accused in the cases.
One case is for murder and the other for grenade blast.
"I've tried to give you all the opportunities that law permits during this long trial … I have to write judgment giving legal explanation bringing the total fact into the fore," said Judge Shahed Nuruddin before fixing the date for judgment.
The court set up at a building near the old central jail in the capital cancelled bail of eight accused in the cases and ordered sending them to jail immediately.
Now, 30 accused including Babar, former state minister for home; former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu and three former IGPs are now in jail while 19 others including Tarique are on the run.
Wrapping up their arguments, the prosecution sought the highest punishment to all the accused, saying it has been able to prove all charges beyond reasonable doubt.
But the defence counsels said the prosecution failed to produce evidence to prove the charges and sought acquittal of their clients.
A total of 24 AL leaders and activists, including Mohila Awami League president Ivy Rahman, were killed and more than 300 others were injured in the grisly attack on Bangabandhu Avenue.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was the opposition leader in parliament at that time, narrowly escaped the attack with an ear injury.
The grenade attack, allegedly masterminded by some BNP leaders, is one of the most shocking political crimes in the country's history.
The attack, aimed at assassinating Hasina, and the steps taken by the then government in its aftermath left a deep scar in the country's politics as it sharpened the division among the two archrivals -- AL and BNP.
The BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, the parties that shared power at the time, had allegedly made efforts to bury the truth and protect the masterminds by derailing the investigation. It even tried to put the blame on the AL.
But further investigation into the cases revealed that the attack was an outcome of collaboration between the militant outfit Huji, influential leaders of the BNP and Jamaat, and a band of senior officials of the home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
The development in the much-talked about cases comes just three months before the next parliamentary elections.
LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE
A day after the attack, police filed a case with Motijheel Police Station against unnamed accused.
The then government formed a one-member judicial inquiry commission led by a High Court judge. Besides, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) came to Dhaka to probe the grenade attack.
But, a few months later, senior CID officials made up the farcical Joj Mia story and detained him along with 20 other petty criminals. Joj Mia and two others were forced to give statements confessing their “involvement” in carrying out the grenade attack.
The real 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 a caretaker administration took over, the CID submitted two separate charge sheets in June 2007, accusing 22 persons including Mufti Hannan and Abdus Salam Pintu. The charge sheet hints at the involvement of some high-level government and security officials in the plot.
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 new investigation officer was assigned.
The CID in July 2011 submitted supplementary charge sheet accusing 30 more individuals, including Tarique and Babar, taking the total number of accused to 52.
Of them, Mufti Hannan and his associate Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul were executed in a case filed for attacking the then UK high commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury.
Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, a minister of four-party alliance government, was hanged for committing crimes against humanity during the Liberation War in 1971.
The re-trial in the two cases started concurrently in March 2012. The prosecution produced 225 witnesses to prove the charges while the defence produced 20.
The court yesterday completed the trial after hearing the closing arguments for 119 days. Defence counsels Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, Abdur Rezak Khan and SM Shahjahan placed their submission while Chief Prosecutor Syed Rezaur Rahman appeared for the state.
“We have reached the final stage of the procedure after a long time ... I am grateful to all of you for your kind cooperation,” the judge said.
According to the prosecution, the grenade attack on Awami League rally was the outcome of a criminal conspiracy which was finalised at Hawa Bhaban, and at the residence of the then deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu with Tarique Rahman giving the ultimate endorsement.
Hawa Bhaban, the BNP chief's political office during the four-party rule in 2001-06, had become the alternative centre of power of the government.
The accused came together to have their common interest served by killing the AL chief.
Tarique and his cohorts intended to assassinate Hasina and other AL leaders so that the then government could remain in power “permanently”, the prosecution said.
The purpose of Mufti Abdul Hannan, executed leader of militant outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (Huji) and also an accused, and his cohorts was to establish "fanatic Islam" in the country.
The ministers or lawmakers involved in the plot wanted further promotion and police and intelligence officials looked to be in the government's good books.
They said the grenades were brought from Pakistan by Maulana Tajuddin, brother of Pintu. Before the attack, the accused held meetings in at least 10 places in the capital, including Hawa Bhaban, attended among others by Tarique, Babar and Pintu.
After the carnage, the prosecution said, police were reluctant to find out the real culprits, rather destroyed evidence and misled investigation by staging the Joj Mia drama. Detectives and people close to the then government helped Tajuddin flee the country under fake name.
All these facts revealed that a deep-rooted conspiracy was hatched, the prosecution said.
The defence counsels on the other hand termed the incident tragic, but alleged that investigators failed to unearth the mystery and find out the perpetrators behind the killings.
In the name of further investigation during the Awami League rule, BNP leaders and police and intelligence officials were implicated with political motives, they added.
The counsels further said the prosecution utterly failed to prove their involvement in the crimes.
The defence also said the prosecution solely depended on Huji leader Mufti Hannan's second confessional statement, which was given under duress.
And punishing other accused on the basis of that statement and without having any other independent evidence would be a blunder, they said.
Accused, charges and punishment
CHARGE: CONSPIRACY AND APPROVING THE PLAN
Accused: Tarique Rahman, Lutfozzaman Babar, Abdus Salam Pintu, Abul Harris Chowdhury, former political secretary to prime minister Khaleda Zia, Kazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad, a BNP lawmaker, Brig Gen (retd) Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury, then DGFI director, Brig Gen (retd) Abdur Rahim, then NSI DG, Mohammad Hanif, owner of Hanif Paribahan, and BNP leader Ariful Islam Arif, also a former councillor of Dhaka City Corporation.
The nine have been charged with conspiring and approving the plan of the attack executed by Huji men and their accomplices. If found guilty, they may be awarded up to death sentence.
CHARGE: GRIEVOUS HURT, ATTEMPT TO MURDER, MURDER, ABETMENT & CRIMINAL LIABILITY
Accused: Huji founder Abdus Salam, Huji leaders Maulana Sheikh Farid, Maulana Abdur Rouf, Maulana Abdul Hannan Sabbir, Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leader Abdul Malek alias Golam Mohammad, Pakistan-based LeT leader Yusuf Butt alias Majid Butt, Mufti Shafiqur Rahman, Mufti Abdul Hai, Hafez Maulana Yahya, Babu alias Ratul Babu, Mohibullah alias Mafizur Rahman alias Ovi, Maulana Abu Sayeed alias Dr Abu Zafar, Abul Kalam Azad alias Bulbul, Jahangir Alam, Maulana Abu Taher, Shahadatullah Jewel, Hossain Ahmed Tamim, Mufti Moinuddin Sheikh alias Abu Zandal alias Masum Billah, Arif Hasan Sumon, Rafiqul Islam Sabuj, Mohammad Ujjal alias Ratan, Maulana Tajuddin, Maulana Liton, Anisul Mursalin and his brother Mahibul Muttakin, Md Iqbal, Maulana Abu Bakar alias Selim Howlader, Jahangir Alam Badar and Khalilur Rahman.
The twenty-nine have been charged with causing grievous hurt, attempt to murder, murder, abetment and criminal liability. If convicted, they may get maximum death penalty.
CHARGE: FINANCIAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE HELP TO THE KILLERS
Accused: Former IGPs -- Ashraful Huda and Shahudul Haque -- have been charged with assisting the killers financially and administratively to execute the attack.
If found guilty, the two may face up to life-term imprisonment.
CHARGE: VANISHING OF EVIDENCE
Accused: Former deputy commissioner (East) of DMP Obaidur Rahman Khan and former DC (South) of DMP Khan Sayeed Hassan have been charged with having the evidence of the grisly attack vanished and providing the killers with administrative assistance. If convicted, the two may get life sentence.
CHARGE: HELPING THE GRENADE SUPPLIER TO FLEE TO PAKISTAN
Accused: Lt Commander (retd) Saiful Islam Duke, also nephew of Khaleda, Saiful Islam Joarder, former DGFI official (sacked), and Maj Gen (retd) ATM Amin, a former top DGFI official, have been charged with protecting the supplier of the Arges grenades used in the attack and helping him flee to Pakistan. If found guilty, the three may be awarded up to life-term jail sentence.
CHARGE: DIVERTING THE FACTS AND CREATING JOJ MIA DRAMA
Accused: Former SP Ruhul Amin of CID, former ASPs of CID Atiqur Rahman, Abdur Rashid and former IGP Khoda Baksh Chowdhury have been charged with misleading the case and creating the much-talked-about Joj Mia drama to save the killers.
Ruhul, Atiqur and Rashid were the officials who led the first investigation when Khoda Baksh was the IGP. If convicted, the four may be sentenced up to seven years in jail.
Follow our special presentation on August 21 Grenade Attack: www.thedailystar.net/august-21-carnage