Ride to death, return to life
The clock struck 3 in the afternoon of August 21, 2004.
At Sudha Sadan, the residence of Awami League President Sheikh Hasina, preparations were underway to head for Bangabandhu Avenue where the party was holding an anti-militancy rally.
Hasina, the then leader of the opposition, asked her security personnel whether everything was ready at the rally venue. She then started for the rally after saying Asr prayers.
"Apa asked us to offer Asr prayers before we left for the rally near the party central office," recalled Md Jahangir Alam, personal assistant to Hasina, now prime minister.
He could never imagine that the quiet afternoon would turn into a horrific and bloody one.
"I've never seen a war in my life. But what I saw on the August 21 afternoon was a bloody carnage. I'll not forget it as long as I live," Jahangir told The Daily Star, recounting the gruesome grenade attack on the AL rally 13 years ago.
Moments before the attack, the scene on the AL central office premises was totally different, he said.
Jahangir, who reached the venue by a jeep, was waiting beside Hasina's bullet-proof sport utility vehicle (SUV), parked a few yards from a makeshift podium on a truck.
Defying the scorching heat and humidity, a large number of party leaders and activists were listening to Hasina's speech with senior leaders and security personnel around her on the truck.
Around 5:15pm, she ended her speech and was about to step down from the podium. But two photojournalists requested her to wait there for a while for their taking snaps.
Within moments, Jahangir saw a black object flying towards the truck.
"At first, I thought it was a bird… It hit the ground with a loud bang and plumes of smoke blanketed the area," he said.
"In no time, grenades rained down on the venue. Loud explosions, smoke, chaos and screams were all around," said the 48-year-old man, who has been with Hasina for the last 27 years.
Senior AL leaders and Hasina's security personnel formed a human shield around her. Among them were former Dhaka city mayor Mohammad Hanif, Hasina's personal security team member Abdullah Al Mamun, her cousin Nazib Ahmed and the then Dhaka City AL general secretary Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya.
They tried to escort Hasina to her SUV. But as they took a few steps towards the SUV, another grenade went off near the truck, said Jahangir.
"I heard Apa [Hasina] recite doa aloud… Frightened, people were running for cover."
The rally venue had been turned into a ghastly scene of blood and gore. The entire area reverberated with the cries of wounded party leaders and workers.
Stained with blood, many lay on the ground, groaning in pain. Some of those who were unhurt took the injured to hospitals by rickshaws and motorbikes.
"Blood was all over the body of Ada chacha, who used to sell tea near the gate of Awami League office,” said Jahangir.
"Only yards away, Ivy chachi [the then AL women's affairs secretary Ivy Rahman] was lying motionless in a pool of blood...”
Those encircling Hasina finally managed to get down from the truck and take her to the SUV. She got into the vehicle. Without sparing a moment, the driver, Abdul Matin, sped towards Sudha Sadan.
Jahangir couldn't find the vehicle by which he arrived at the venue. But there was a police vehicle nearby. Luckily, the car was unlocked and the key was inside. He then boarded the vehicle, switched on the engine and followed Hasina's SUV to Sudha Sadan.
With bated breath, Hasina's younger sister Sheikh Rehana was waiting there. As she arrived at the house, Rehana ran towards her crying and hugged her, said Jahangir.
"Then I noticed blood on Apa's sari. She was in a state of shock. We asked her whether she was hurt but she didn't reply," Jahangir mentioned.
“After a while, Apa asked us to go back immediately to the scene of the carnage to help the injured.”
Jahangir went back there, and till 3:00am, he shuttled between hospitals where the wounded were being treated.
"Rehana Apa called me on the phone repeatedly, and Apa [Hasina] inquired about the party men," he said.
Jahangir thinks it was sheer luck that he survived the gruesome attack.
He said he had seen death up close within the two hours -- his journey to Bangabandhu Avenue and return to Sudha Sadan.