12:00 AM, August 21, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 21, 2018

21 August Attack: Justice in sight after 14 years

Verdict next month in AL rally grenade attack case

With over 300 splinters inside his body, all Suranjit Sengupta wanted until his death was justice for the August 21 grenade attack.

"I want justice," said the Awami League leader in tears while testifying before a court in 2015, eleven years after the attack on an AL rally that left 24 people killed and over 300 wounded.

Suranjit waited and eventually passed away. AL leader Mohammad Hanif, who was injured in the attack, and former president Zillur Rahman, who lost his wife AL leader Ivy Rahman, also waited and died.

Hanif died in November 2006 without seeing any hope for justice. He died at a time when the then government high ups were making all out efforts to deny justice.

Like Suranjit and others, late President Zillur Rahman also sought justice, not mere sympathy. In an emotion-choked voice, he made the appeal at Ivy's qulkhwani three days after her death.

But justice had remained elusive.

The two cases filed over the attack were delayed largely due to dirty politics pursued by the then BNP-led government high ups, who for the first three years had diverted the probe and cooked up stories about the attack.

Things also slowed down at court.

The wait for a verdict is, however, likely to end as a Speedy Trial Tribunal is expected to deliver it in September, said Law Minister Anisul Huq on Sunday.

Only the closing arguments of former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar remains to be heard and it was likely to take four to six court days, Md Nazrul Islam, lawyer for Babar, told The Daily Star. The next hearing dates this month are August 27, 28 and 29.

Earlier, the defence for 48 other accused, including BNP acting Chairman Tarique Rahman and former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu, had completed their closing arguments.

Chief state counsel Syed Rezaur Rahman claimed that Babar's lawyer was trying to delay verdict delivery by bringing up irrelevant issues.

He also said the verdict would be delivered by the last week of September despite the defence's “attempts to waste time”.

Judge Shahed Nuruddin is conducting the cases -- one filed for murder and the other filed under the Explosive Substances Act.   

A total of 225 prosecution witnesses and 20 defence witnesses testified.

ATTEMPTS TO DERAIL PROBE

The perpetrators carried out the grenade attack, aimed at assassinating then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, when the BNP was in power. The attackers left the venue, Bangabandhu Avenue, without facing any problems.

The government high ups had then made efforts to bury the truth and protect the masterminds by derailing the investigation.

The BNP then launched a campaign saying the AL attacked its own rally. The government high ups even tried to establish, through several investigations, that the AL killed its own activists to harm the then government's image.

As part of a plan to pin the blame on AL, the investigators cooked up a story involving one Mokhlesur Rahman, an AL leader and former ward commissioner of the city's Moghbazar. They also attempted to feed people another story woven around one Joj Mia, a petty criminal.

They forced Joj to make a confessional statement naming Mokhlesur as one of the plotters.

The story crumbled later on. 

Through a judicial commission, led by a Supreme Court judge, the BNP-led government even tried to prove that "foreign enemies" had instigated the carnage and wanted criminals who had been hiding in India took part in the attack, according to a submitted charge sheet.

There was a twist during the rule of the last caretaker government led by Fakhruddin Ahmed. A new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) official was given the charge of a fresh probe in July 2007.

On June 11, 2008, the CID submitted charge sheet accusing 22, including Huji leader Mufti Hannan and former deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu. The charge sheet hinted at the involvement of some government and security officials.

After the AL assumed power, the prosecution on June 22, 2009, sought further investigation to identify the suppliers of the grenades and funding for the attack.

The court on August 3, 2009, ordered the probe and a new CID official was assigned.

In July, 2011, the CID submitted a supplementary charge sheet. According to it, the attack was an outcome of collaboration between the militant outfit Huji, a section of influential leaders of the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, and a section of senior officials of the home ministry, police, Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), National Security Intelligence (NSI) and the Prime Minister's Office.

Babar, then state minister for home affairs, Harris Chowdhury, political secretary to the then prime minister Khaleda Zia, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, the then secretary general of Jamaat and former social welfare minister, the then NSI director general Brig Gen Abdur Rahim and the then DGFI director Brig Gen Rezzaqul Haider Chowdhury were the masterminds of the attack, the supplementary charge sheet read.

Involvement of Tarique Rahman was also alleged.

Mojaheed was dropped from the charge sheet after his execution in a war crimes case in November 2015.

According to the supplementary charge sheet, Huji leader Tajuddin, who is the brother of Abdus Salam Pintu, supplied the grenades and he was allowed to flee the country following Babar's directives. Tajuddin was given a fake passport.

The then premier Khaleda Zia was aware of it, the charge sheet said, adding that Khaleda's nephew and private secretary Saiful Islam Duke, his brother-in-law and then DGFI official Lt Col Saiful Islam Joarder, and another then DGFI official Maj Gen ATM Amin helped Tajuddin flee towards the fag end of the BNP rule in October, 2006.

Huji leaders Mufti Hannan and Shahedul Alam Bipul were executed for attacking British High Commissioner Anwar Chowdhury with grenades in Sylhet.

After the court delivers the verdict in the cases, both parties would be able to appeal to the High Court, kicking off a fresh legal battle. They would also have the scope for moving to the Appellate Division to appeal against HC orders.