Gone within moments
Two militant convicts on death row escaped from a crowded court area within moments around midday yesterday.
Only one police constable was walking four militant convicts, including the two sentenced to death, to the prison cell of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court from a courtroom.
Each two of the convicts were handcuffed together and the policeman named Nur-e-Azad was holding one end of a rope that tied the handcuffs together.
As they reached near the gate of the court premises, the convicts started punching and slapping Nur. Several others, believed to be accomplices of the militants, soon joined the convicts and sprayed something at Nur's face, causing him to momentarily go blind and fall to the ground.
Two of the militants managed to untie the rope and tried to flee. But a security guard caught them at the gate. The other two, still tied with the rope held by Nur, dragged him out of the court premises and made him let go of the it. A man waiting on a motorcycle on the other side of Johnson Road then rode away with the convicts named Moinul Hasan Shamim, who goes by aliases Samir and Imran, and Abu Siddiq Sohel.
The account was given by Nur, now admitted to the National Institute of Ophthalmology, and several others present at the scene.
Nur's nose was broken and he could barely see anything when this correspondent visited him at the institute last night.
"It happened before I could understand what was going on," he said.
The fugitives, who are members of banned outfit Ansar Al Islam, were sentenced to death in February last year for killing publisher Faisal Arefin Dipan in 2015. Sohel was also sentenced to death in a case filed over the murder of blogger-writer Avijit Roy the same year.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said a red alert was issued across the country to arrest the fugitives and border guards were asked to remain vigilant.
"If someone was negligent and if someone did this intentionally, we will take measures," he told reporters at the secretariat.
Police also announced a bounty of Tk 10 lakh for each fugitive.
Criminal law expert Ehsanul Haque Shomaji said the incident exposed a serious lack of security.
"Militants are dangerous. Additional security measures should have been in place. The daring escape exposed the inadequate security arrangement on the court premises," he told The Daily Star.
Entry to the court needs to be restricted, he said, adding that security cameras should cover every corner of the premises.
This is not the first time convicted militants escaped from custody. On February 23, 2014, a gang of 10-15 masked men opened fire and hurled crude bombs at a prison bus in Trishal, Mymensingh, and snatched away three convicted militants, two of whom were sentenced to death.
A constable was killed in that incident.
Of the three fugitives, Rakib Hasan Russell was killed in a gunfight later and Zahidul Islam who went by the alias Boma Mizan was arrested in India.
Yesterday, 12 militants, including Shamim and Sohel, were taken to the court for hearing of a case filed with Mohammadpur Police Station in 2016 under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Only three constables were guarding each four of the convicts under the supervision of an assistant sub-inspector.
After the end of the hearing on the seventh floor, the 12 militants were taken to the ground floor in groups of four.
According to the court sources, the convicts were not bound with fetters and police were taking them to the prison cell without the judge's permission.
Dhaka Metropolitan Public Prosecutor Abdullah Abu said the security measures were inadequate and the militants would not have been able to escape if they were properly bound.
Criminal law expert SM Shahjahan told The Daily Star that it was up to police to decide whether to put fetters on the accused while taking them to the court.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police formed a five-member committee headed by an additional commissioner to investigate whether there were any security lapses at the scene and report within three days, said a press release.
The committee was also asked to recommend measures to avert such incidents in the future, it added.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court administration yesterday asked the police to strengthen the security at courts across the country.