“This attack is a wake-up call for the government."
Prof Serajul Islam Choudhury
Even with three stab wounds on the back of his head, he talked to his students in a teacherly way. “Don't make so much noise; I am trying to control myself as much as I can. Hold me; my blood group is A positive,” one of the students quoted him as saying.
He did what he needed to do -- like he has been doing throughout his life.
“Sir talked to us even after being stabbed,” the student told reporters at Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College and Hospital where Prof Muhammed Zafar Iqbal was rushed after being attacked on his university campus during a programme yesterday afternoon.
On the way to the hospital, the widely respected teacher even enquired about the attacker and requested all not to beat him up, Nawshad Sajeeb, a former student who attended the event, told The Daily Star.
The motive is still unknown but police, victim's friends and colleagues suspect it was an act planned by extremists as Prof Iqbal had received death threats on many occasions.
A bearded youth, aged around 25, was caught red-handed after he stabbed Prof Iqbal around 5:30pm.
Students gave him a beating, leaving him unconscious, said Munadir Islam, assistant commissioner (Jalalabad) of Sylhet Metropolitan Police, adding that the suspect could be a member of a militant organisation.
Prof Iqbal, a faculty member of Computer Science and Engineering department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST), is an educationalist loved by students of any age across the country.
A noted writer, he is popular among kids especially for his science fiction novels. All his life he has been vocal against communal forces and championing secularism and the ideals of the Liberation War.
Under treatment, he had 27 stitches and was given two bags of blood, said Brig Gen Mahbubul Haque, director of the Osmani Medical College and Hospital. “We have conducted a surgery and it's successful. But he is being sent to Dhaka for better treatment and evaluation.”
According to doctors, he was stabbed thrice in the rear of his head and once in his back. He also suffered a cut in a left-hand finger.
Around 9:50pm, an air ambulance flew to the capital with Prof Iqbal on the directives from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He reached the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka around midnight, said Joynal Abedin, assistant registrar of SUST.
Joynal, who is also the personal secretary to Prof Iqbal, said, “On the way to Dhaka, sir managed to speak a few words. He wanted to know where were we going and if his wife knew about his condition.”
Apart from the PS, two doctors from Sylhet and an assistant professor of his department accompanied Prof Iqbal. His wife Prof Yesmeen Huq was in Dhaka.
After his admission to CMH, ISPR Director Col Rashidul Hasan in a text message said the professor was now “out of danger” and details about his condition will be made known around 11:00am today.
The incident triggered a firestorm of public outrage with hundreds of people taking to streets in Sylhet, Dhaka and elsewhere. The protestors termed it an attack on free speech and secularism.
Strongly condemning it, the prime minister directed law enforcers to track down all the culprits involved and bring them to book.
Visiting Prof Iqbal at the Sylhet hospital, Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said since the teacher had police protection on campus, it is the police who have to take responsibility and find the reason behind the attack.
Eminent citizens expressed anger and said the incident was a “wake-up call” for the government.
Kamruzzaman, a teacher at SUST, told The Daily Star that Prof Iqbal was attending a robotic competition organised by his department in front of the university's library building.
While he was watching the event sitting on a sofa on the stage, a youth suddenly appeared from the behind and attacked him on his head with a sharp weapon.
Police constable Ibrahim, appointed for Prof Iqbal's security, suffered a stab injury in one hand while trying to save the teacher, witnesses said.
According to some students, the attacker used a knife.
A photograph which was taken moments before the incident and which went viral on social media shows that the suspect was standing just behind the professor with his hands behind his back. He looked nonchalant while some other youths were standing beside him.
The suspect, identified as Foyzur Rahman, was given primary treatment at a private hospital in Sylhet and was later taken to the Combined Military Hospital at Jalalabad Cantonment for better treatment, said Ali Haydar Mohammad Azad, commanding officer of Rab-9 in Sylhet.
Foyzur, a madrasa student, hailed from Jagannathpur upazila of Sunamganj.
After the news spread, hundreds of students, teachers and fans crowded Osmani Medical College and Hospital. Hundreds of students of Dhaka University and SUST staged protests on the campuses.
Prof Iqbal is among the first few writers who started authoring science fictions in Bangla. He has been a recipient of several awards in the field of literature; the most significant of them was the Bangla Academy Literary Award.
Police have been providing security to him since blogger Ananta Bijoy Das was killed by unidentified assailants on May 12, 2015 in Sylhet, according to police sources.
The Sylhet police at a press briefing on April 30, 2016 said Prof Iqbal would get round-the-clock security.
On May 22, 2015, he received a death threat in a posted mail from extremist outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), now known as Ansar Al Islam.
On October 13, 2016, he and his wife Yesmeen Huq, who too is a SUST professor, received a threat from ABT via SMS on their mobile phones.
Before this, he was threatened by outlawed Islamist outfit Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (Huji-B) on March 02, 2009. In a letter, Huji-B wrote: “You, the honourable person, have done immeasurable harm to Islam and Muslims. No forces would be able to save you.”
"This attack on Zafar Iqbal is a wake-up call for the government," said Prof Emeritus Serajul Islam Choudhury, a renowned academic, author and critic.
It shows how unsafe the teachers are even at their educational institutions, he said. "A teacher like Prof Zafar Iqbal is not safe on his own campus.”
Prof Emeritus Anisuzzaman, noted writer and educationist, said the government must leave no stone unturned to identify the masterminds. He also hoped that exemplary punishment will be given to the culprit involved in the crime.
Condemning the attack, Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus in a statement said, "I pray for his swift and full recovery and express my earnest hope that the assailants will be apprehended and be brought to justice at the fastest speed."
Human rights activist Sultana Kamal said, "I am so shocked and outraged that I have no words to condemn the incident."
She added that the incident is a very serious message for the government.
Law Minister Anisul Huq said the perpetrators of such a heinous crime will be identified and given due punishment.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said that the attack on Prof Iqbal is a part of a "plan to fish in troubled waters”.
Dhaka University Prof ASM Maksud Kamal said the stabbing of Zafar Iqbal was an attack on the spirit of Liberation War and freethinking.
Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh Kazi Reazul Hoque and Sammallito Samajik Andolon, a civic platform, also condemned the attack.
They all hoped Prof Iqbal will get well soon and will return back to his normal work.
Gonojagoron Mancha activists demonstrated at Shahbagh intersection in the capital yesterday evening. Its spokesperson Imran H Sarker also called a protest programme for tomorrow in Dhaka.
A torch procession was brought out at Shahbagh last night.
Foyzur told the Rab that he launched the attack as he considered Prof Iqbal an enemy of Islam, Ali Haydar of Rab-9 told reporters at a briefing.
The suspect claimed he was working alone but Rab was not buying it, the CO said, adding they were investigating if he was involved with any radical group.
Police and Rab jointly raided Foyzur's Sheikhpara home in Kumargaon area adjacent to the university, Munadir Islam Chowdhury, assistant commissioner of Sylhet Metropolitan Police said.
Nobody was home and the house was locked.
Police detained his maternal uncle Fozlur Rahman from his house nearby, said Officer-in-Charge Shafiqur Rahman of Jalalabad Police Station.
A top official of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of DMP said they sent a team to Sylhet for investigation.
[Our Sylhet correspondent contributed to this report]