They were legally bound to protect the civilians of the country.
But instead, a section of Rapid Action Battalion members took the lives of seven people in Narayanganj in exchange for money to serve the interest of a petty ruling party leader.
The horrific crime shook the nation to its core and earned the elite crime busters a bad name because of the involvement of so many members of the disciplined force in such a grievous offence.
Justice finally caught up with them as a Narayanganj court yesterday found 35 people, including 25 former Rab officials and expelled ruling AL man Nur Hossain, guilty of abduction and murder of seven people and destroying evidence in April 2014.
Narayanganj District and Sessions Judge's Court handed down death penalty to 26 people and jailed nine other accused for various terms, from seven to 17 years.
After the Pilkhana carnage case, this is the largest one in terms of the number of accused getting capital punishment. Over the Pilkhana carnage in 2009, 152 people were awarded death penalty in November 2013.
Of the 26 sentenced to death over the seven murders, 16 are former Rab members who include the then commanding officer of Rab-11 in Narayanganj Lt Col Tareque Sayeed Mohammad and the then company commanders of Rab-11 Maj Arif Hossain and Lt Commander Masud Rana.
Tareque is the son-in-law of Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya.
Tareque, Arif and Masud have been withdrawn from Rab and forced into retirement from the defence services.
The rest of the 26 include prime accused Nur Hossain, sacked vice-president of Siddhirganj Awami League and Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) councillor, and his cohorts.
Of the 35 convicts, 23 are in jail while 12 are on the run.
Seven people, including the then NCC panel mayor Nazrul Islam and senior lawyer Chandan Sarker, were abducted from Dhaka-Narayanganj link road on April 27, 2014. Later, their bodies were found floating in the Shitalakkhya river.
The nation stood aghast at the extent of the brutality. The family members and relatives of the victims mobilised public support and waged a movement demanding justice.
Following a petition, the High Court ordered arrest of the three officials and probe without Rab involvement.
The families yesterday said they are happy but they demand quick execution of the verdict and arrest of the fugitives.
"I am happy but I will not show V sign until the verdict is executed," Nazrul's wife Selina Islam, a plaintiff of one of the two cases filed over the incident, told The Daily Star in her instant reaction.
Susmita Sarkar, daughter of Chandan, said, "We are happy with the verdict and waiting for quick execution of the judgment."
After appearing before a Narayanganj court in a criminal case on April 27, 2014, Nazrul along with Moniruzzaman Swapan, Tajul Islam, Liton and his driver Jahangir Alam was returning to Dhaka in a microbus.
As they reached Khan Shaheb Osman Ali Stadium at Fatullah, another microbus waylaid them. The five were abducted.
Chandan and his driver Ibrahim were also abducted and killed apparently because they witnessed the abduction of Nazrul and others.
The murderers cut open the victims' bellies and tied the bodies to sacks full of bricks before throwing them into the river. They were blindfolded, and their hands and legs were tied, police say.
According to a charge sheet, Nur Hossain had previous enmity with Nazrul Islam over issues related to the city corporation. He paid the Rab officials to abduct and kill Nazrul.
Being the commander of the force, Tareque ordered his subordinates to abduct and kill the persons and hide the bodies with the intention of getting financial benefits by breaching the discipline of the force.
Arif and Masud directly took part in the crime, and the other members of the force, whose names were mentioned in the charge sheet, participated in the offence at different stages.
Charge sheets in the two cases were submitted in April 2015.
Following the charge framing on February 8 last year, the court recorded testimonies of 106 witnesses and heard arguments from both the prosecution and the defence before fixing January 16 for delivering the verdict.
Both the cases were tried simultaneously as they were filed over one incident.
Since the morning yesterday, a huge number of people started gathering before the court amid tight security on and around the court premises.
Five accused, including Nur Hossain, were taken to the court from Kashimpur jail in Gazipur around 9:40am while 18 other accused were brought from Narayanganj jail around 9:00am.
They were later produced at the jam-packed courtroom.
As the court clock struck 10:00am, the judge, Syed Enayet Hossain, took seat.
A total of 23 accused were put on the dock. A court official started pronouncing the names of the accused.
Soon the judge read out the sentence and left the courtroom at 10:06am.
The court awarded death penalty to 26 accused as the “charges of abduction, killing and hiding bodies” were proved against them beyond reasonable doubt.
Tareque, Arif and Masud were kept outside the caged dock while Nur Hossain and all the other accused were inside. The accused were split in two groups fearing that the three former Rab officials could come under attack by others, said court sources.
When the verdict was pronounced, Nur Hossain looked disheartened while Tareque stood silent. A few of the accused cried out while some others were seen trying to talk to their lawyers.
Nur Hossain, however, tried to comfort some accused in tears, saying still there will be proceedings at the High Court and the Supreme Court, a police official who was near the dock told The Daily Star.
After the preparation of necessary documents, the convicts were taken to Kashimpur and Narayanganj jails around 1:45pm.
As soon as the news of the verdict broke, locals including supporters of Nazrul, who had gathered outside the court premises, started cheering. Lawyers brought out processions hailing the verdict.
Public Prosecutor Wazed Ali Khokon said the Rab officials misused power and committed the crime while being in official uniform. "This judgment proves that the court can try any criminal. Nobody is above the law," he said.
Sakhawat Hossain, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said, "We would have been happier had all the accused been awarded death penalty."
Expressing dissatisfaction, Md Sultanuzzaman, lawyer for Tareque, said, "The evidence produced before the court against my client was not enough to prove him guilty.
"We will appeal to the higher court against the verdict."
Family members of Tareque and Rana did not give any reaction to journalists.
The convicts will get a time specified by the court to file appeal with the High Court.
Both the Awami League and the BNP expressed satisfaction over the verdict.
Narayanganj Mayor Selina Hayat Ivy said justice has been done and for this she thanked the government.
[Shaheen Mollah also contributed to this report]