Avijit Murder Masterminds: Holed up somewhere inside Bangladesh
Police officers believe that the two fugitive leaders of Ansar al Islam, for whose information the US State department declared a $5 million reward, are hiding somewhere in Bangladesh.
Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit officials, who have been trailing the militant outfit, confirmed this to The Daily Star yesterday.
Ansar al Islam was previously known as Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT).
Sayed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Major (sacked) Zia, chief of ABT's military wing, and Akram Hossain Abir, an intelligence wing member of ABT, are the two fugitives. They were the conspirators behind the killing of Bangladesh-born American writer Avijit Roy and the attack on his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya in Dhaka.
The US State Department's Counter-Terrorism Rewards Programme called Rewards for Justice on Monday offered five million dollars for information on Avijit's killers.
On February 26, 2015, Avijit and Bonya were visiting Amar Ekushey Boi Mela in Dhaka when assailants attacked them, killing Avijit and injuring Bonya.
ABT had claimed responsibility for the attack soon afterwards.
Even though the police told this newspaper that both Zia and Akram are in Bangladesh, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan claimed that that was not the case.
Talking with reporters at an event in Manikganj yesterday, he said the murder of Avijit was investigated properly and an ABT group had done it.
He added that the law enforcers had successfully eradicated the militant groups that emerged in the country at that time.
"The court sentenced five individuals to death and one to life imprisonment for their involvement in the killing. We are now looking for Zia and Akram," the minister said.
A high official of the CTTC unit said according to the latest information, Zia introduced himself as Imran Kaysar in recent times. The previous name he assumed was Ahmed Mokter.
"We last tracked Zia's activities in May this year, when he sent instructions in secret online groups to all wings of the outfit ahead of Eid-ul-Azha," said the officer, requesting not to be named.
Addressing the ABT patrons, Zia wrote, "My dear brothers and sisters, it is you, for whom our brothers are still active in Bangladesh, Kashmir and Afghanistan."
A CTTC officer said the patrons are also members of the outfit's secret groups. Police are now trying to identify them.
Zia was found instructing media wing members to spread the outfit's sermons and write-ups, investigators said.
Police in 2016 offered a reward of TK 20 lakh for information on Zia.
The officer said police had a complete map of Zia's movement up until March 2020, but lost the trail during the pandemic.
"Zia had been to Dhaka, Chattogram, Cumilla and Mymensingh. Even before the Eid-ul-Fitr of 2019, he went to Chittagong Railway Station to buy a ticket to Dhaka and made a fuss at the station for not getting a ticket," said the officer.
The local police later confirmed that the person was Syed Ziaul Haque, but by then it was too late, he added.
"It took time to identify him because we have old pictures of the fugitives and they frequently change their appearances," he said.
Md Asaduzzaman, chief of the CTTC unit, on Monday night told this newspaper that as per police intelligence, Zia is in Bangladesh.
Regarding Akram's location, a CTTC officer said that several years ago there was information that he was in India. "But, we later heard that he came back."
A former student of Dhaka College, Akram used to live in Old Dhaka's Dholaikhal area and he joined ABT in 2014.
The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka on February 16 this year handed down death sentences to five militants and life imprisonment to another for killing Avijit.
Those handed the death sentence are Zia, Akram, Abu Siddique Sohel, Mozammel Hossain, and Arafat Rahman. Life imprisonment was given to Shafiur Rahman Farabi.
Md Kamrul Ahsan, chief of the Anti-Terrorism Unit, told The Daily Star yesterday that both Zia and Akram were accused in a number of cases.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said that the reward announced by the US for information on the killers would help the efforts of the Bangladesh government to catch them.
"We do not know where they are or which country they are in but it will be helpful," he told reporters in Dhaka.