Why Sheikh Hasina was attacked on 21st August: A Pakistani militant's 'Bangladesh Mission'


Published on August 20, 2023
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One of the biggest militant attacks in Bangladesh’s history was the grenade attack on Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s rally at Bangabandhu Avenue on August 21, 2004.

The then opposition leader and now prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, had become the target of a terrorist attack on an anti-terrorism rally. Twenty-four people were killed in that attack. If the attack was fully successful, most of the Awami League policymakers, including the party chief, would have died.

Who planned this militant attack, who were they, and what would they have gained by taking out the Awami League leadership? Where did the grenades come from? How, and who supplied them?

The man who has provided the answers to all these questions is a Pakistani militant. His organizational name is Abdul Majed Bhat, alias Abdul Majid, but his real name is Abu Yusuf Bhat. He had come to Bangladesh with the “assignment” to carry out long-term militant activities. He even married a local girl, after learning to speak and write fluent Bangla, reported Bangla Tribune.

Investigations revealed that Yusuf Bhat, son of Abdur Rahman Bhat, is from the Terigaon area of Kulgaon in India-controlled Kashmir’s Islamabad district. After finishing school, he completed his honours in biology from the Islamabad Government Degree College in 1989.

In the beginning of the 90s, Yusuf was made a top level organizer ofHijb-ul Mujahideen, the military wing of the Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami, after he left Kashmir in India and became a Pakistani citizen. Hijb-ul Mujahideen was formed in September 1989, with the direct backing of Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Yusuf Bhat is one of the principally accused in the August 21 grenade attack case. On December 6, 2009, Yusuf gave a 14-page confessional statement in court detailing information regarding active militants in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

In his statement, Yusuf said he met Maulana Tajuddin, Maulana Abdus Salam, and Mufti Hannan, at Mohammadpur’s Saat Masjid in early August 2004. “Maulana Tajuddin said if Awami League comes to power then it will be tough for our organization to be active in Bangladesh and India. So, if Sheikh Hasina is killed then Awami League will be destroyed and will not be able to come to power, and that will allow us to work easily in Bangladesh and India. That’s why we will have to kill Sheikh Hasina.

“When Maulana Abdus Salam asked how they would do it, Tajuddin said he had grenades that could be used to carry out the attack. Tajuddin also said his brother, Minister Abdul Salam Pintu, would provide all assistance on behalf of the government. He said they would have to carry out the attack with the BNP in power, because it wouldn’t be possible if Awami League returned to power.”

Yusuf also said Tajuddin stressed that they would not have to think the matter over as government assistance was confirmed by his brother.

He said Tajuddin was given Tk6-7 lakh in several phases by Hijb-ul Mujahideen to bring the grenades and ammunition to Dhaka from Pakistan via India. But he could not bring them over as the person who was supposed to receive and supply the grenades and ammunition had gotten arrested at the border by India’s Border Security Force (BSF).

“The grenades used in the attack on Awami League’s rally on August 21, 2004 were the ones Tajuddin already had. Mujaffar Shah had given them to him.”

Yusuf Bhat in his confessional statement also gave information regarding the grenades that were used in the attacks on then British high commissioner in Dhaka, Anwar Choudhury, on May 21, 2004, on Awami League leader Suranjit Sengupta’s rally in Sunamganj on June 21 that year, on then Sylhet mayor Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran on August 7, and the fatal attack on former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria in Habiganj on January 27, 2005.

As part of his plan to permanently stay in Bangladesh, Yusuf married Nahid Laila Kakon of Sirajganj on October 3, 2003.

Kakon said she met Yusuf through Arif Hasan Sumon, another accused in the August 21 case. After their marriage, Yusuf applied for Bangladeshi citizenship and even had a fake Bangladeshi passport made with false information .

Sumon, whose real name is Abdur Razzak, is from Dhaka’s Mohammadpur. Another accused in the August 21 grenade attack case, Hafez Maulana Idris, is a brother-in-law. Tajuddin, who is a fugitive in this case and currently living in South Africa, used to be a tenant at Sumon’s house. Yusuf also rented a flat in that same building after he arrived in Dhaka.

Yusuf came to Dhaka for the first time in January 2000. Before his arrest in Sirajganj in June 2007, he lived in both Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Yusuf’s now former wife, Kakon, in her confessional statement given on September 15, 2013, also provided details regarding communications between Yusuf and others accused in the August 21 case, travel of militant leaders to Bangladesh from Pakistan, arms and financing, and other matters of this nature.

Yusuf in his statement also confessed that Pakistan-based militant outfit Tehrik-e-Jihadi (TJI) leader Mujaffar Shah had sent him the grenades used in the August 21 attack. Tajuddin also had some explosives. The grenades and the explosives were even kept in Yusuf’s Mohammadpur flat for a while.

He also gave information regarding the activities of Pakistan and Afghanistan-based militant groups, such as TJI, Hijb-ul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Al-Badr, and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, and their members in Bangladesh.

For Hijb-ul Mujahideen, Yusuf was active in Kashmir until 1999. The next year, he and Salahuddin Shah came to Bangladesh following the orders of the militant outfit’s leader, Syed Md Yusuf Shah, alias Syed Salahuddin. Their plan was to set up an arms supply route through Bangladesh to India-controlled Kashmir.

After staying in Dhaka for several months, they went to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. Tajuddin had told them to return if the BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power through the 2001 national polls. Yusuf returned to Dhaka in 2002. He went back to Pakistan with a Bangladeshi passport on October 7, 2006, and then returned to Dhaka in November.

Yusuf’s statement also mentioned that militants traveled between Pakistan and Bangladesh without any problems during the BNP-Jamaat coalition’s term in power. He also gave up information regarding Engineer Khan, Kamrul Islam, Golam Rasul, Mujaffar Shah, Sekandar, Shakil Shahed, Khurram Khaiyam, alias Selim, Safi Samiullah, alias Mostak, and others, who were involved in militant activities in India through Bangladesh.

The reasons, according to Yusuf Bhat, why Sheikh Hasina was attacked

1. The religion-based militants needed a government in their favour to keep India destabilized, for which they did not like Sheikh Hasina
2. The militants consider her an enemy of Islamists as she is secular
3. Anti-Islam intellectuals apparently get more space whenever Hasina is in power
4. Hasina’s death would have destroyed Awami League and the party would never have come to power
5. Sheikh Hasina is an enemy of Pakistan. The intelligence agency, political parties, and militant outfits of that country do not like her
6. Bangladeshi political parties that favour militancy are also against Sheikh Hasina
7. Some political parties, which either came to power or shared power, also dislike Hasina. Their interests and militant interests align.
8. Apart from the religion-based militants, other active terror groups in India also consider Sheikh Hasina their enemy

Source: Dhaka Tribune