ISI in thick of things
Though earlier probes into the 10-truck arms haul cases found only some local smugglers and ordinary labourers involved in the smuggling of arms, further investigations in 2009 revealed that local and foreign intelligence agencies and an Indian separatist group had executed the smuggling plan.
The names of some top politicians of the then BNP-led four-party alliance government, bureaucrats, Pakistani intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Indian separatist group United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) came up during further probe into the cases.
Several meetings were held at home and abroad before April 2, 2004, when a huge cache of arms and ammunition was seized at the jetty of Chittagong Urea Fertiliser Ltd (CUFL).
Some accused in the two cases disclosed this during interrogation by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and making confessional statements in court, said Moniruzzaman Chowdhury, the latest investigation officer (IO) of the cases.
Former National Security Intelligence (NSI) director wing commander Shahab Uddin, who is now behind bars, alleged that former NSI director general Brig Gen (retd) Abdur Rahim had held several meetings with officials of ARY Group and the ISI at home and abroad.
Though Shahab Uddin during interrogation at the TFI cell in Dhaka in early May in 2009 had spoken about the arms smuggling plan, in a confessional statement on May 15 that year, he tactfully avoided many facts. In the statement he did not mention the name of the ISI or any of its officials. Rather, he only referred to meetings with “foreigners”.
Rahim in his statement on May 27 in 2009 had mentioned the names of the ARY and ISI and spoken about holding meetings with the officials of the two organisations. He even admitted that he met ISI director general Lt Gen Ehsanul Hoque in London. But he did not give any hint about planning the smuggling in those meetings. Rather, he alleged that Shahab held a meeting with ISI officials to facilitate the arms smuggling.
ISI, ULFA LINKS
Shahab in his statement stated that the ISI had provided mobile monitoring equipment to the NSI as a gift. NSI DG Rahim had been to London to meet ISI officials to discuss the handing over of the device.
In February 2004, the DG had given a briefcase to Shahab and told him to have it reach his residence. In it was the mobile monitoring equipment, mentioned Shahab.
The DG earlier had received dollars from foreigners in such a briefcase, he added.
On March 27 or 28, DG Rahim called some NSI directors, including Shahab, Didar and Enam. The DG told them that consignments for different embassies would arrive at different times and they needed to monitor it.
According to Shahab, Rahim called him on March 30 and told him that some goods would be transported from Anwara to Haluaghat and it would be better if someone from the NSI accompanied it.
On the other hand, Rahim in his statement complained that Shahab had developed close relations with ISI officials Brig Sapir Uddin and Col Shahed Mahmud, who had been serving at the Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka.
The NSI had a fund of Tk2.50 crore for procuring mobile monitoring equipment in 2002. Shahab suggested purchasing the device from the ISI and talked to its officials in July 2002, claimed Rahim.
In early 2003, the ISI handed over the device to the NSI and Rahim went to London to discuss the payment with ISI DG Lt Gen Ehsanul Hoque. At the meeting the ISI chief told Rahim that the device was a gift for the NSI from Pakistan.
Rahim further alleged that in March 2004, Shahab tried to talk with him about ULFA leader Anup Chetia. As Rahim was indifferent to Shahab, he dropped the issue and told Rahim that they should help the ULFA. Infuriated at this proposal, Rahim questioned, “Shall we hand over Bangladesh to the ULFA?”
Shahab in his statement said one Pakistani national named Amir bhai, who was later known to him as ULFA leader Paresh Barua, met him at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka at 7:00pm on March 30, 2004. Amir told Shahab that he had a meeting with the NSI DG.
While seeing off Amir, Shahab could see from his cabin former DGFI director Brig Gen (retd) Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury standing near the staircase.
IO Moniruzzaman said though the two tried to accuse each other, many things became clear from their statements and it helped him in probing the cases.