21 August, 2004: All Hell Broke Loose by State-Sponsored Terrorism


Published on August 21, 2023
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Nineteen years ago on 21st August, the nation was about to burst against the state-sponsored militancy, in the capital. Ironically, shortly after, the anti-militancy protesters themselves became victims of the country’s most gruesome militant attack masterminded by then BNP-Jamaat government.

The anti-militancy campaigners in their hundreds and thousands thronged Bangabandhu Avenue to protest the killings of secular politicians, cultural activists and Liberation War campaigners.

It appeared like Doom’s Day as grenades and bullets were showered from all directions towards the rally addressed by Sheikh Hasina, then leader of the opposition, with an aim to kill her apparently for her stance against religious extremism, which had mushroomed under the patronisation of the then BNP-Jamaat government.

Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League president, called for the rally to make the nation stand united and fight the menace of the spiralling of the militancy and terrorism.

This became the most gruesome attack on the country’s progressive quarter since BNP and its self-proclaimed anti-liberation ally Jamaat-e-Islam assumed power in 2001.

Militants of Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (Huji), with links to several serving ministers and officials of law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and top BNP-Jamaat leaders, carried out the attack that left 24 party leaders and workers dead, including immediate past president Zillur Rahman’s wife and Bangladesh Awami League’s women wing leader Ivy Rahman. As many as 300 others were injured in the attack.

Let’s revisit the horrifying moments of the massacre 

The clock struck at 5:22 pm, that fateful moment. Sheikh Hasina was about to wrap up her rally. The AL Central leaders were still on the truck with her.

Amid the roaring voices to stand against extremism, the first grenade was exploded and 12 more were hurled one after another, form the top of the nearby buildings, with black plumes of smoke covering the area. In a blink of an eye, the busy avenue had turned into a mangled disaster scene. Within moments the resounding resolve drowned out to an eerie silence.

The truck on which Sheikh Hasina was standing when the grenades were thrown lay there, its wooden sides splintered away.

Trampled on the road were purses and vanity bags, umbrellas and sandals, broken wooden boards, heaps of rubbish and pieces of burned torn clothes.

And then the bodies -- dead and alive. People were lying everywhere. Bleeding and limbless. A terrible thing had happened to them, by some dark magic their skins had vanished.

In pain, some of the injured groaned sitting on congealed blood as fellow activists attended to them. Some were rushed to hospitals by rickshaw, motorcycle or even carts while some stared at the scene with utter disbelief. Some were crying standing by the injured.

Sheikh Hasina escaped assassination attempt narrowly 

As the grenades rained in from the sky, Sheikh Hasina ducked on the truck and scores of supporters created a shield over her.

The grenades missed the truck and landed on either side. She was then huddled into the SUV. Her security personnel wheeled her away through thick smokes.

Targeting her, at least seven bullets were fired at the bulletproof SUV she boarded. Of those, three bullets hit the right side of the front window shield, just opposite the front seat where she sat. A bullet also punctured the rear wheel of the vehicle. 

Sheikh Hasina sustained severe hearing complications caused by the impact of the blast.

Tarique Rahman designer of the evil plot: Huji Chief testifies at a court

In 2011, Mufti Abdul Hannan, chief of Huji) confessed before a court that some intelligence and political bigwigs, led by the Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman, asked the Huji people to kill the Awami League chief and assured them of making necessary arrangements to help them evade justice.

He referred to a meeting along with some influential leaders and ministers of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, Huji leaders and top intelligence officials.

At the meeting, Tarique, then senior joint secretary general of BNP, assigned two party leaders -- state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar and deputy minister Abdus Salam Pintu -- to provide all-out assistance to the Huji men to carry out the attack.

Before the attack, Hannan along with several other Huji leaders went to Hawa Bhaban, the political office of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia. There, the militant leader said, he found Tarique, Abul Harris Chowdhury, former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar, Abdus Salam

Pintu, BNP lawmaker Kazi Shah Mofazzal Hossain Kaikobad and Jamaat-e-Islami Secretary General Ali Ahsan Muhammad Mojaheed. Brigadier General Abdur Rahim, then director-general of National Security Intelligence (NSI), and Brigadier General Rezzakul Haider Chowdhury, then director-general of Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), were also present.

Discussions were taken place centring the plan of the grenade attack on that rally and the Huji group sought for assistance.

Tarique then assured them of full support and told them to communicate with Babar and Pintu for administrative assistance.

Grenades termed Sheikh Hasina’s breakfast: 74th witness testifies 

Mohammad Mosaddek Billah, principal of a Gazipur-based madrasa and 74th witness in the August 21 grenade attack cases tells before a court that one of the convicted Huji leaders had described the grenades as “breakfast for Sheikh Hasina”. Hours before the attack, he went to a house and found the demonic extremists ---Mufti Hannan, Liton, Kajol, Muttakin, Mursalin and Zandal---- taking out some round-shaped things from bags. As he inquired about those things, one of them replied that those things are prepared for Sheikh Hasina’s breakfast.

“In the evening that day, I learned from people and the media that a grenade attack had been carried out on Bangabandhu Avenue and I finally realised what that breakfast really meant,” he testified.

An innocent cassette seller farcically made the top accused: Justice turned into a farce

Joj Miah used to earn a living by selling posters and cassettes near Gulistan Cinema Hall. In early June 2005, he went to his village home at Senbagh in Noakhali after he fell sick. On June 10, officials of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Joj at his home and took him to their custody.

With that arrest, another cooked up story was produced to misguide the nation and guard the criminals. 

In the custody, the CID officials tortured Joj and threatened to make him a victim of a set-up crossfire incident and to kill his mother and sister as well. He was told to be made an approver if he agreed to give a false confession. Under such circumstances, Joj agreed to give the confessional statement.

On June 26, 2005, Joj gave the made-up confessional statement before a magistrate where he admitted of being involved in the attack and also named some other innocent people that were given by the CID.

Joj was released from jail after an investigation in 2007 by the then CID ASP Fazlul Kabir found no evidence of his involvement in the attack.