DHAKA: A former chief of Bangladesh’s main spy agency, DGFI, today said perpetrators of the deadly August 21, 2004 grenade attack targeting incumbent Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina were protected under directives of the higher political authority.
“I was asked not to catch [arrest] them [culprits],” ex- director general of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) Maj Gen (Retd) Sadik Hassan Rumi told a Dhaka court as the belated trial of several high-profile suspects of the attack was under way.
He added: “There was no dearth of efforts on my part to unearth the plot but I was repeatedly obstructed”.
A total of 24 people were killed and some 500 others injured while Hasina narrowly escaped but with a permanent hearing impairment as the assailants hurled 13 “arges” grenades at a rally of her Awami League party at downtown Dhaka.
Rumi reaffirmed his earlier deposition as a prosecution witness saying the then ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s senior vice president and ex-premier Khaleda Zia’s now “fugitive” elder son, Tarique Rahman, ex-home minister for home Lutfuzzaman Babar and leaders of the militant outfit HuJI Mufty Abdul Hannan and Maulana Tajuddin were involved the attack plot.
The comments of Rumi, who was the chief of the spy agency during the 2001-2006 BNP-led four-party regime, came as the defence counsels at the Speedy Trial Tribunal of Judge Shahed Nuruddin cross-examined him on his November 5 deposition.
He vehemently rejected a defence proposition that he gave his statement to evade the wrath of the incumbent government or Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) actions on graft charges.
“I challenge you . . . I have not come here to testify due to any fright or allurement . . . I am a  freedom fighter and in my whole life I have not earned anything by dishonest means, discharged my duties with utmost honesty,” Rumi said.
Replying to a question Rumi said being the DGFI chief he could talk to the prime minister any time on the basis of “talking points” and he eventually informed the then premier about the attack in writing.
In last week’s testimony Rumi insisted Zia barred him from investigating the attack while the ex-premier appeared annoyed and virtually rebuked him as he wanted to talk to her on the attack issue and subsequent investigations.
“From where you gathered the ridiculous information . . . what is your headache if Tajuddin [a key attack plotter] goes to Pakistan or anywhere else?” Rumi recalled Zia telling him as he tried to confirm a report that she herself ordered his safe passage abroad.
The trial of the grisly attack is under way with the court indicting a number of high-profile suspects while the prosecution accused Tarique Rahman and Babar as being the masterminds of the attack plot.
The then opposition leader Shaikh Hasina was visibly the prime target of the assassination plot while the dead included the party’s women front chief and President Zillur Rahman’s wife, Ivy Rahman.
Babar and another junior minister, Abdus Salam Pintu, former minister in the same government and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed were the political figures alongside Tarique Rahman who are being tried.
Three former police chiefs, several former military officials who were posted in DGFI at that time and several kingpins of outlawed Harkatul Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) including its detained chief Mufti Abdul Hannan are among others to face trial in person or in absentia.
Under a court order Rahman, now in London, and 19 others are being tried in absentia as they “failed” to appear and they were earlier declared “absconding” to evade justice.
Officials said out of 52 accused, 19 including Tarique Rahman and Zia’s then political assistant Haris Chowdhury are on the run, eight including three ex-IGPs are on bail and the rest including Babar are in jail.