Investigators and locals suspect that two close aides to Principal Siraj Ud Doula were among the four who set Nusrat Jahan Rafi on fire at Sonagazi Islamia Senior Fazil Madrasa on April 6.
They believe the four attackers, who were wearing veils, can be identified if the principal's aides -- Nuruddin and Shahadat alias Shamim -- are arrested.
Witnesses said they saw the two at the main entrance to the madrasa on the night of April 5. The following day, Nuruddin was again seen at the gate.
The duo, accused in a case filed by the victim's brother, went on the run following public outrage over the incident.
Locals alleged that the two suspects, both Fazil (graduation) students of the madrasa, were able to evade arrest as Sonagazi police did not take prompt action to catch them.
The 18-year-old madrasa girl, who suffered serious burns, lost her battle for life at Dhaka Medical College Hospital on Wednesday night.
According to some local journalists, Sonagazi police earlier told them that it was a case of attempted suicide.
After taking over the investigation from Sonagazi police on Wednesday, the Police Bureau of Investigation launched a combing operation to arrest all the eight accused. Some PBI officials from Dhaka, Chattogram and Cumilla have been tasked with the job, said sources.
PBI chief Deputy Inspector General Banaj Kumar Muzumder said they were working to arrest all the accused, including Nuruddin and Shamim.
Talking to locals in Sonagazi yesterday, The Daily Star learnt that a committee was formed demanding release of Siraj following his arrest on March 27.
Nuruddin and Shamim were made the convener and the joint convener of the 20-member body. Under their leadership, human chains were formed and protests staged in the upazila town on March 28 and 30 demanding release of the principal.
Madrasa teachers and locals alleged that the two had threatened Nusrat's relatives and other people who demanded justice for her sexual harassment.
Only a few minutes before the Alim exams on April 6, four unidentified people allegedly took Nusrat to the roof of the three-storey administrative building of the madrasa saying one of her friends was being assaulted there, victim's brother Mahmudul Hasan Noman had told this newspaper earlier.
They asked her to withdraw the case filed by her mother against Siraj on March 27 over sexual harassment in the principal's office, but she didn't comply. At one stage, the four doused Nusrat with kerosene and set her on fire, Noman said.
Nurul Amin, a peon of the madrasa, said Nuruddin and Shamim might have links with the four attackers. “The duo had close relations with the principal. They could enter his office anytime.”
He said although section 144 was enforced in and around the madrasa campus during any public examination, the principal's aides could enter the madrasa premises freely.
Mostafa, a night guard at the madrasa, said everybody knew about the close relations between the principal and the duo, but none dared say anything against them.
MORE STUDENTS HARASSED?
Talking to The Daily Star after yesterday's Alim exam, a classmate of Nusrat alleged that she was also sexually harassed by Siraj about four months ago, but she didn't get justice.
She said she had informed her family about it, but the incident was not probed.
“The same person's crime has caused the death of my classmate. I want capital punishment for the principal,” she said.
Night guard Mostafa, who had worked as the principal's peon a couple of years ago, said he witnessed at least three incidents in which Siraj forcibly hugged three female students in his office.
“I could neither protest nor tell others about the incidents fearing reprisal,” he told The Daily Star.
BURIED AT VILLAGE
A pall of gloom descended on Uttar Char Chandia village of Sonagazi yesterday afternoon after Nusrat's body reached her village home from Dhaka.
Family members, relatives and villagers broke down in tears as an ambulance carrying the body reached her home around 4:30pm. Her two brothers Noman and Rashidul Hasan Raihan fainted.
After around an hour, her namaz-e-janaza was held at the ground of Sonagazi Mohammad Saber Government Pilot High School. Several thousand people took part in the janaza, led by Nusrat's father AKM Musa.
The madrasa girl was laid to rest at her family graveyard around 6:30pm.
“Nusrat was my close friend. I received support from her regarding my studies,” an Alim examinee told journalists at the madrasa after yesterday's exam.
Students demanded highest punishment for the principal and the killers.
Earlier in the day, Nusrat's body was handed over to her family members after an autopsy at the Dhaka Medical College morgue.
Brig Gen Nasir Uddin, director of the DMCH, told this newspaper that the girl died of her burn injuries. He said they kept samples from the body for microbiological and DNA tests.
Nusrat's father Musa said they received all necessary support from the prime minister and the hospital authorities. “I request all to pray for the salvation of my daughter's departed soul. I demand exemplary punishment for the culprits.”
AL LEADER EXPELLED
A Feni Awami League leader has been expelled from the party for defending the madrasa principal, the prime accused in the case, in a local court on Wednesday.
Kazirbagh union AL General Secretary Bulbul Ahmed Sohag, also the chairman of the union, was expelled from the party yesterday, said Noor Hossain, general secretary of Feni Sadar upazila AL.
On Wednesday, the court placed Siraj on seven-day remand.
Police have so far arrested nine people, including three accused, in connection with the murder case.
A Feni court yesterday placed two of the arrestees on five-day remand each. They are Zubayer Ahmed, an Alim student, and Umme Sultana Poppy, an Alim examinee and also the niece of the principal.
The two were picked up from their homes on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the three-member probe committee, formed by the district administration on April 7, has sought seven more working days to complete its job as the three-day probe time frame expired yesterday.