Hasina at terror risk
Security and intelligence agencies last month warned Awami League (AL) President Sheikh Hasina of possible attempts on her life by extremist groups including Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Huji) and Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, said sources concerned.
It was at that time Special Security Force (SSF) assumed the responsibility of ensuring her security, they added.
Meanwhile, security measures for Hasina have been stepped up following news by an Indian television network that Huji has unleashed a six-member suicide squad to kill the former prime minister.
SSF Director General (DG) Major General Ashraf Abdullah Yussuf told The Daily Star yesterday, “We often receive such leads and none of those is less important to us. We have taken extra safety precautions for Sheikh Hasina like we do each time after we have such information.”
However, sources close to the administration said the news prompted the government high-ups to discuss the matter immediately.
General Ashraf communicated it to the chief adviser, home adviser, home secretary and top officials of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
He said he has been assured of all-out cooperation to put in place foolproof security arrangements for Hasina and the other VIPs.
The law enforcement and intel agencies were examining the authenticity of information that came up in the story on fresh threats against the AL chief.
CNN-IBN, India-based English-language news channel, yesterday reported, “Indian intelligence agencies have warned Bangladesh that a six-member suicide squad of the banned Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (Huji) has been trained to assassinate Hasina.”
It added that an officer of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence operating under the name Ehetesham has trained the Huji men for two months at Kaliganj in Satkhira.
Inspector General of Police Nur Muhammad and Additional Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) Col Gulzar Uddin Ahmed told The Daily Star that they did not have any reports in this regard.
“If we find it [the news] to be correct, we'll of course take necessary steps,” said Gulzar.
SSF security for Hasina and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia was withdrawn on February 22 last year and given back on November 3.
Both the leaders are now campaigning across the country for the December 29 general election.
At the end of September, AL expressed fear of militant attacks in the run-up to the polls.
"We have information in this regard," AL acting general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam told reporters after a meeting with British envoy Duncan Norman who too spoke of similar fears.
Asked if they had already had the information and apprised Hasina of it, the DG of SSF said, “I brief the two leaders [Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina] about our threat assessment at times.”
He however would not elaborate on the issue.
Sources said names of Huji and JMB were categorically mentioned to Hasina as sources of threats. While Huji had made attempts on her life before, JMB poses danger to everyone and everything standing up for secularism and progressive ideals.
Khaleda too has been alerted to dangers from Huji and JMB. She faces threats from the Islamist outfits as her government banned the groups following a series of countrywide blasts and killings in 2005.
The SSF DG said they have further improved security of the leaders after the recent militant attacks in neighbouring India and Pakistan.
In response to yesterday's news, the security procedures for Hasina and Khaleda, who ruled the country alternately since restoration of democracy in 1990, have been tightened even more.
“We have beefed up security in the areas Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to visit next,” Gen Ashraf said.
Protection layers surrounding her have been increased, keeping in mind the throwing- range of grenades.
One has to negotiate a number of counter-measures to launch an attack on her, he continued.
“While arranging security, we also have to make sure her campaigning is not hampered. Considering this, we are now trying to deal with the matter the way the developed countries usually do.”
Sources said SSF personnel sometimes have to compromise on the safety checks because of over-zealous partymen.
AL presidium member Matia Chowdhury told The Daily Star, “Party leaders should behave responsibly when it comes to her [Hasina's] security. Likewise, the government should work with greater responsibility.”
Meanwhile, law enforcers posted along the border and in ports have been alerted as explosives used in the attempt on Hasina's life on August 21, 2004, Kibria killing on January 27, 2005, and the attack on British high commissioner in Sylhet on May 21, 2004 were found to have been smuggled in from abroad.