21st August: 15 yrs of bloody chapter
Over 500 people were injured in the heinous attack
Published: 11:04 PM, 20 August 2019 Updated: 12:01 AM, 21 August 2019
A decade and a half ago, on 21 August 2004, Islamist militants launched a heinous grenade attack on a rally of the then opposition Awami League at Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka aiming to annihilate the main leaders of the party. The militant group Harkatul Jihad carried out the devastating grenade attack hatched by some high ranking persons of the then BNP-led government. At least 24 people were killed, including AL Women Affairs Secretary Ivy Rahman, and over 500 were injured in the grisly attack. The nation to observe the 15th anniversary of the gruesome grenade attack today.
What happened on that day?
Awami League President Sheikh Hasina was the prime target, but she narrowly escaped death as her fellow leaders swiftly enclosed her in a human shield on the truck she was using as a makeshift stage.
The attackers then opened fire on Hasina’s vehicle while she was fleeing the scene.
While Hasina escaped the attack with only partial hearing loss, 24 others were not so lucky, including the then women affairs secretary, Ivy Rahman. Hundreds of other people who attended the rally in Dhaka’s Bangabandhu Avenue were injured by grenade splinters.
As a witness in the cases, Sheikh Hasina described what happened around her that day.
She said that her party held the rally to protest a grenade attack on the then British high commissioner, and the killing of a student in Gopalganj.
The party had applied to the authorities for permission to hold the rally at Muktangan, but as they did not get a permit until the morning of August 20, the venue was shifted to the front of the Awami League office at 23 Bangabandhu Avenue.
Listed as the final speaker of the day, Sheikh Hasina started for the rally from her Dhanmondi residence Sudha Sadan around 4:30pm.
Around 5:20pm, after finishing her speech with her party’s signature “Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu” rallying cry, Sheikh Hasina’s move to get off the truck was halted by photojournalists requesting a photo.
At that moment, a grenade exploded right beside the stage, sending the crowd into a state of chaos. Immediately, the leaders on the truck made a human shield to protect her as at least 12 more grenades landed in the next two minutes
Amid the blasts, her security personnel initially failed to get her off the truck and into her bulletproof sports utility vehicle (SUV) but managed to do so on the second attempt.
The assailants fired seven bullets at Hasina’s bulletproof SUV. A bullet punctured the rear wheel of the vehicle and there was a large hole in the rear right side of its windshield. At least three bullets hit the right side of the front windshield, just opposite the front seat where the former prime minister sat. The three-layered bulletproof Mercedes Benz saved her life that day.
Sheikh Hasina reached her residence Sudha Sadan at around 6:00pm.
“Whoever be the attackers, it is certain that Sheikh Hasina was their target,” on-duty police officials later said seeking anonymity.
However, 24 people including the then Mahila AL president and wife of late Bangladesh president Zillur Rahman were killed and over 500 others injured in the attack and many of them became crippled for life.
Those other killed in the barbaric grenade attack included the then opposition leader’s personal security guard Lance Corporal (retd) Mahbubur Rashid, Abul Kalam Azad, Rezina Begum, Nasir Uddin Sardar, Atique Sarkar, Abdul Kuddus Patwari, Aminul Islam Moazzem, Belal Hossain, Mamun Mridha, Ratan Shikdar, Liton Munshi, Hasina Mamtaz Reena, Sufia Begum, Rafiqul Islam (Ada Chacha), Mostaque Ahmed Sentu, Md Hanif, Abul Kashem, Zahed Ali, Momen Ali, M Shamsuddin and Ishaque Miah.
Prominent among those suffered serious splinter injuries included Sheikh Hasina, Amir Hossain Amu, Abdur Razzak, Suranjit Sengupta, Obaidul Quader, Advocate Sahara Khatun, Mohammad Hanif, Professor Abu Sayeed, and AFM Bahauddin Nasim.
Another grenade, which did not explode during the attack, went off at 6:27pm amid rescue operations and police presence in the alleyway opposite to the AL office.
Paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles (now Border Guard Bangladesh) personnel were deployed in Dhaka city later in the evening at around 7:15pm
Blood and protests:
Hasina said she reached her home around 6pm. In her wake lay pools of blood, splinter-riddled bodies, and injured people.
Mahbub, a member of the Awami League chief’s personal staff, was killed near Sheikh Hasina’s vehicle while shielding her, while many of her companions were injured to varying degrees.
The shell-shocked Awami League supporters slowly began a rescue operation and hailed whatever vehicles they could to get the victims to hospitals.
Later, they torched some vehicles around the area in protest, and police made baton charges and fired tear gas shells to disperse them.
Afterward, the government deployed the now-defunct Bangladesh Rifles personnel in the city.
Crowds thronged mortuaries to see the deceased, while hospitals in the city were filled with those injured in the blast.
Around the city, the protests continued.
Horror on trauma wards:
Thousands of distraught relatives and party activists thronged the city hospitals to see if their near and dear ones were among the dead and injured.
The hospital air turned heavy with people's screams and cry for blood as the authorities struggled to cope with the rush of the injured and their relatives.
People took no more than 10 minutes to rush to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) after the first injured was taken there.
The relatives, Awami League (AL) activists, law-enforcers and journalists crowded the entrance to the Emergency Ward, as more injured were rushed there.
Over 150 injured were taken first to the DMCH. The authorities moved old patients of Ward No. 32 to other wards and made beds on the floor but still could not manage enough space for the injured.
21st August mastermind and their rise:
Harkatul Jihad (Huji), a notorious militant outfit and its members were responsible for this attack allegedly headed by some of the then ruling party BNP and it alliances in the government. Huji stands as an example of how the negligence of a government, or even cooperation to a certain extent, can lead to such a dangerous outburst of a secret militant outfit, in this case, Harkatul Jihad al-Islami (HuJi-B).
From March 1999 till January 2005, this militant group carried out 13 bomb and grenade attacks throughout the country. A total of 106 persons were killed in these incidents, with over 700 being injured.
There were attacks on Awami League and CPB (Communist Party of Bangladesh) meetings, on cultural programs for the Bangla New Year organized by of Udichi and Chhayanaut, attacks on the religious minorities and on the British High Commissioner. During this span of time, at least four attempts were made on the life of Awami League president Sheikh Hasina.
However, neither the Awami League government at the time nor the subsequent government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) took any effective measures against the militants. When the caretaker government came to power in 2007, the 21 August grenade attack case was revived and gradually the facts behind the scene began to unfold.
On the other hand, HuJi remained silent during the first three years of BNP’s 2001-06 term in the government. They resumed their violent acts on 21 May 2004 with the grenade attack on the British High Commissioner in Sylhet.
Three months later, they carried out the grenade attack on the Awami League rally at Bangabandhu Avenue in the capital city, in an attempt to kill the opposition leader at the time, Sheikh Hasina. She narrowly escaped death, but Ivy Rahman and 22 others were killed. Hundreds were injured, including Sheikh Hasina.
On 27 January 2005 former finance minister SAMS Kibria and five others were killed in a HuJi grenade attack at an Awami League rally in Habinganj.
HuJi had moved away from its original ideology and became a pawn in the hands of local and international groups, according to experts on militancy. They feel that their aim was to kill Sheikh Hasina and render Awami League leaderless
Culprits under punishment:
Fifty-two people were held accused in the case while prosecution suggested an influential quarter of the then BNP regime including party’s senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman masterminded its shocking plot engaging militant outfit HuJI and subsequently made desperate efforts to protect the assailants.
Three of the accused top HuJI leader Mufty Abdul Hannan, Sharif Shahedul Bipul and then Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed however, were by now executed after trial in other cases.
A total of 31 accused including two former ministers faced the trial in person while 18 including Tarique Rahman were tried in absentia as they are believed to be staying abroad.
Militants under control, but risks remain:
A small faction of HuJi-B is trying to reorganize again. It has been learnt that they are even committing robberies in order to generate funds. However, senior levels within the police say that HuJi is done and over with for the time being. In the global context, two militant organizations are the main threat and both these organizations have followers in Bangladesh.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies research fellow Shafqat Munir said, “HuJi is quiet at the moment. But it must be seen whether they have joined other militant organizations or trying to reorganize themselves.” He said that bold measures by law enforcement have brought militant activities under control in this country to a great extent, but the risk remains. Long term measures must be taken to eliminate this risk. There is no scope to underestimate the militants or the risk of violent extremism, he observed.
The nation will observe the 15th anniversary of the gruesome grenade attack on an Awami League (AL) rally in the capital on August 21 in 2004.
Marking the day, AL and its associate bodies will place wreaths at a makeshift altar in front of the party’s central office at Bangabandhu Avenue at 9 am on Wednesday.
A discussion will be held at Krishibid Institution of Bangladesh (KIB) at Khamarbari in the city’s Farmgate area at 4 pm.
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