• Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

August 21 attack probe: US terror experts had bitter experience

  • Published at 11:45 pm August 19th, 2021
august 21 grenade attack
File photo: An unexploded grenade on Bangabandhu Avenue after the attack on August 21, 2004 Courtesy

Khaleda-led government obstructed US detectives and failed to protect crime scene from severe contamination

It has already been proven beyond doubt that the BNP-Jamaat government had failed to take effective measures to solve the issue of confiscating 10 truckloads of firearms in Chittagong and the grisly grenade attack on a rally of then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on August 21, 2004.

As a sequel, the perpetrators struck again on January 27, 2005, killing five leaders and activists of the Awami League, including former finance minister Shah AMS Kibria, and injuring over 70 others during a rally held at Baidyer Bazar in Habiganj.

Two days before the attack, then US ambassador in Dhaka Harry K Thomas wrote to Washington that the government’s “inability or unwillingness to solve such incidents [committed in 2004] fuels speculation that the perpetrators, Islamist or otherwise, enjoy political protection.”

Also Read - 17th anniversary of August 21 grenade attack Saturday

The four-party alliance government led by BNP chief Khaleda Zia had called in the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to investigate the August 21 grenade attack incident.

But it was apparently an eyewash as the government continued to blame the Awami League for staging the attack but they themselves staged the “Joj Mia drama” within months to implicate the notorious Seven-Star Group, led by Subrata Bain Shuvro, through his confessional statement.

The US ambassador in another cable on February 7, 2005 wrote: “We have serious concerns given our experience after the August 21 attack, when the BDG (Bangladesh government) denied ATF consultants access to key witnesses and failed to protect the crime scene from severe contamination.” 

Also Read - State for holding hearing on appeals on priority basis

Incumbent prime minister and then opposition leader Sheikh Hasina narrowly escaped but was wounded in the attack that killed 24 people and injured over 500 others, who had joined the anti-terrorism rally at Bangabandhu Avenue.

Thomas said he had met with then prime minister Khaleda Zia on February 7 in response to her telephone conversation with Condoleezza Rice, the then US secretary of state, seeking US law enforcement assistance in investigating the January 27 attack.

At the meeting, Khaleda Zia assured her full support for an open and complete investigation to solve this "very sad" crime, and expressed a strong preference for the FBI because of its positive profile in Bangladesh.

"We're very concerned by these attacks,” Khaleda Zia added.

Thomas reiterated the US government’s condemnation of the attack and the importance of getting to the bottom of the crime. 

The dead and the injured on the street in front of the Awami League headquarters at Bangabandhu Avenue in Dhaka after the grenade attack on August 21, 2004 | Focus Bangla

“We want to work with the BDG (Bangladesh government) to support democracy and stability, and to stop acts that benefit only the extremists,” he told Khaleda Zia.

During the meeting, Khaleda Zia was accompanied by three top officials of the Prime Minister’s Office – principal secretary Kamaluddin Siddiqui, political secretary Haris Chowdhury and press secretary Tajul Islam.

Khaleda Zia’s elder son Tarique Rahman and her political adviser Haris Chowdhury, among other government high-ups, were found guilty of masterminding the attack with the help of the militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), headquartered in Pakistan.

Members of the outlawed group are facing trial for the grenade attack on SAMS Kibria.

Conditions apply

Due to Washington’s bitter experience in the past in dealing with the August 21 grenade attack case, Thomas wanted to make sure that the involvement of the US law enforcement consultants in the SAMS Kibria murder probe would be meaningful.

“…this time, we seek clear BDG commitments that US consultants would have full access to all evidence and witnesses.” 

Also Read - Fugitive convict in August 21 grenade attack case arrested by RAB in Dhaka

He therefore suggested that terms of reference be negotiated with the Home Ministry to detail the precise role and parameters of the US consultants in the investigation.

If the consultants came and were obstructed, the ambassador threatened, they would leave and the US government would be obliged to explain publicly why. 

PMO principal secretary Kamal Siddiqui said that the FBI was well known and well respected in Bangladesh.  

Press secretary Tajul Islam suggested that even if ATF agents were included, the team could still be called an "FBI" team. 

While the meeting was underway, the Bangladeshi media intensely covered possible US government involvement in the January 27 case. 

As Kamal Siddiqui left the meeting to brief the media, he asked the ambassador if he could announce that an FBI team was en route. 

Ambassador Thomas hoped that the US government’s profile would be further elevated if the then British high commissioner, Anwar Choudhury, had been right to anticipate that Scotland Yard would not get involved this time. 

Scotland Yard, too, had a bitter experience with the investigations of the August 21 attack and the May 21 attack on Anwar Choudhury in Sylhet in 2004, said Thomas.

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