Revisiting BDR Carnage: Shots ring out, hell descends
12:00 AM, November 28, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:01 AM, November 28, 2017

Revisiting BDR Carnage: Shots ring out, hell descends

74 people including 57 ARMY officers were Brutally killed

The Satmasjid Road at capital's Dhanmondi was buzzing with usual morning rush hour traffic around 9:00am on February 25, 2009. Shops were already busy handling customers; parents hurrying to schools to drop off their children and make it to their offices in time.

All of a sudden, a loud burst of gunfire in the Pilkhana headquarters of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), later named as Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), pierced through the hustle and bustle.

The gunshots baffled the neighbourhood. Initially, people thought some firing exercises were going on inside the BDR headquarters.

But the deep loud noise of weapons continued to echo. No one could imagine that a bloody mutiny brewed up in Pilkhana which would jolt the newly  formed government.

Within hours, the area turned into a battlefield with the sound of frequent firing. Inside the BDR HQ, a group of heavily armed border troops indulged in an act of mindless violence.

The mutiny that rolled on for the next 30 hours left the nation benumbed, as people stood aghast at the extent of the barbarity perpetrated on the officers. It left 74 people dead, 57 of them were army officers. As things started to unfold, many theories popped up centring the mutiny.

Four years after the mindless killing that shook the nation to its core, a Dhaka court awarded death sentence to 150 BDR members and two civilians, and life imprisonment to 160 others for their roles and involvement in the carnage.

The court also handed down rigorous imprisonment to 256 people, mostly BDR soldiers. It acquitted the remaining 278 accused, but the government later appealed against the acquittal of 69 of them.

Yesterday, the High Court delivered the verdict on the death references and appeals in the sensational carnage case, upholding capital punishment of 139 out of the 152 convicts.

The court commuted the death sentences of eight to life-term imprisonment and acquitted four others. Another death row convict died earlier.

It also upheld the life imprisonments of 146 out of 160 people. Two of them have died while 12 others were acquitted.

THE MUNITY

The mutineers chose February 25, 2009, to revolt, as the day was scheduled for the yearly Darbar (assembly) of the force during the BDR week.

As the Darbar began around 9:00am and former director general of BGB Maj Gen Shakil Ahmed was addressing the gathering of officers and lower tier personnel, some rebellious jawans created a commotion pressing for some demands, including pay and benefits.

As the jawans kept on arguing, another group suddenly opened fire on the dais. The former DG was believed to been killed first.

The mutineers took many officers hostage and seized control of the headquarters within a few minutes, spraying bullets indiscriminately in the HQ compound. Thick plumes of smoke were billowing out of the headquarters.

The rumble of gunfire left the locals of neighbouring areas in panic. Army personnel reached the spot around 11:00am and took position at various points. Before them, members of the Rapid Action Battalion arrived at the scene.

Vehicular movement on nearby roads came to a halt. Shops and schools in the area were closed. As the day wore on, many families living around Pilkhana opted to flee their homes. Those living close by watched in horror as army personnel ringed the compound and their choppers hovered overhead. The entire capital was overcome by panic.

Around 12:30pm, State Minister for LGRD and Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Jatiya Sangsad Whip Mirza Azam arrived at the headquarters to hold talks with the mutineers.

The mutineers talked to reporters of various television channels and newspapers demanding an end to the army's control over the force. They demanded withdrawal of army personnel from areas around the headquarters and also talks with the prime minister and the home minister.

Around 2:00pm, Jahangir Kabir Nanak and Mirza Azam entered the headquarters with a white flag. The then home minister Sahara Khatun followed them.

Around 3:40pm, a team of mutineers reached the prime minister's then official residence Jamuna for talks and the premier announced amnesty for the rebel soldiers following the meeting.

The mutineers stopped firing around 7:30pm and many injured including women and children were allowed to leave the headquarters.

But around an hour later, the rebels started firing again near the gate-1. Additional army personnel were deployed. The mutineers put forward a condition of withdrawing the army personnel from Pilkhana by that night for laying down their arms.

Around 9:30pm, a team of four BDR members met Sahara Khatun, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, Mirza Azam and Fazle Noor Taposh at Ambala Inn on Dhanmondi Road-2. Eight more members joined the team within a few minutes for talks with the government representatives.

The army personnel started retreating from their positions at New Market, Nilkhet and Balaka around 10:40pm and the meeting between the rebels and the government representatives ended at 12:10am.

Taposh came up with an announcement that the rebel jawans agreed to lay down their arms within two hours.

Around 20 minutes later, Sahara Khatun again entered the border guards' headquarters.

Through intense negotiations, the government could rescue 29 army officers: two colonels, five lieutenant colonels, 21 majors and one captain. A combined force of Rab, police and army conducted an overnight search for the rebel soldiers who had fled the Pilkhana mutiny before daybreak.

The mutinous soldiers started turning in their arms to police in presence of Sahara Khatun around 2:30am. But, within a few minutes heavy gunshots were heard and the mutineers announced to fight back if attacked. A little later, Sahara urged the soldiers to surrender.

Elsewhere in the country, paramilitaries in some districts took position on the highways and roads, leaving a long stretch of border unprotected.

They came out of their camps and outposts in Chittagong, Rangpur, Chapainawabganj, Satkhira and Jessore to resist a possible military onslaught in reprisal for bloodshed at Pilkhana.

The next day around 2:00pm, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave a televised speech and urged the mutineers to immediately lay down their arms and return to the barracks so that she was not compelled to use force to end the standoff.

Following her speech, a convoy of armoured personnel carriers and tanks from the army's 9 Division in Savar and 46 Brigade in Dhaka Cantonment went into Dhanmondi area.

The arrival of the army commandos had apparently intimidated the mutineers into hoisting a white flag on the main gate of their headquarters around 6:00pm. Many fled Pilkhana through its Azimpur and Hazaribagh gates.

With the surrender of the mutineers, police and the Armed Police Battalion took control of the headquarters and its armoury in an evening push. The army with around 20 tanks and APCs took position on Satmasjid Road near the Abahani playground.

The ordeal for more than 100 family members of BDR officers and jawans -- trapped inside or held hostage -- finally ended. They came out with tears in their eyes.

The following day was more shocking. Army and Rab rescuers found a mass grave inside the BDR headquarters and recovered bodies of officers and the DG of the paramilitary force. The sheer scale of the savagery as witnessed in the mass grave left the nation numb with grief.

Pilkhana looked like a battlefield as hundreds of thousands of bullet shells, several hundred pairs of boots and as many caps had littered the compound.

The government decided to form a special tribunal for trying those guilty of criminal acts during the mutiny.

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