Khaleda Zia, son directly involved in Awami League rally attack: PM Hasina

While Zia is currently serving a jail term in a corruption case, Rahman is residing in the UK under political asylum

Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina | Wikimedia Commons
Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina | Wikimedia Commons

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday accused her predecessor Khaleda Zia and her "fugitive son Tarique Rahman of being directly involved in the 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League rally in which 24 people were killed and she narrowly escaped.

Her comments came as the belated and protracted trial of the attack neared completion.

"There is no doubt that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia (the then prime minister) and her son (Tarique Rahman) were directly involved in the gruesome grenade attack on the Awami League rally," she said commemorating the 14th anniversary of the assault in Dhaka.

While Zia is currently serving a jail term in a corruption case, Rahman is residing in the UK under political asylum.

On August 24, 2004, militants lobbed 13 grenades on a peaceful rally of the Awami League (AL) in front of its Bangabandhu Avenue central office here. Twenty-four leaders and workers of AL and its associate bodies, including wife of late president Zillur Rahman, were killed and over 500 others suffered splinter injuries in the attack and many of them became crippled for life.

Though Hasina narrowly escaped the attack, she lost her hearing ability due to the impact of the repeated grenade blasts near the truck-dais of the huge public rally.

Hasina claimed ahead of the attack, Zia had said that Awami will not be able to come to power in 100 years and that she would never be the prime minister or even the Leader of the Opposition in future.

In Bangladeshi media, Zia, 72, and Hasina, 70, are known as the 'Battling Begums' for their bitter rivalry going on for nearly four decades.

Prosecutors said the evidence and testimonies of key accused and crucial witnesses, including the then Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) chief gradually unfolded the plot.

Retired major general Sadik Hassan Rumi, former DGFI chief, earlier appeared as a crucial prosecution witness in the court and said perpetrators of the attack targeting the incumbent premier were protected under higher political authority's directives.

"I was asked not to catch them (culprits)...There was no dearth of efforts on my part to unearth the plot but I was repeatedly obstructed," Rumi told the court as the belated trial of several high-profile suspects of the attack was underway.

Rumi claimed the ex-premier appeared annoyed and rebuked him when he wanted to talk to her on the attack issue and subsequent investigations.

"From where did you gather the ridiculous information...what is your headache if Tajuddin (a key suspect) goes to Pakistan or anywhere else?" Rumi recalled Zia as telling him, confirming a report that the ex-premier herself had ordered the safe passage of his son abroad.

Mufti Abdul Hannan, the chief of the banned Harkatul Jihad (HuJI) militant outfit and a key accused in case, in his confessional statement before the trial court had given a detailed description of how the plot was orchestrated and his outfit was entrusted with the task to kill Hasina and other front-ranking AL leaders.

Hannan along with his two associates were executed last year for a separate attack in 2004 on a shrine that killed three people and wounded the then British high commissioner Anwar Chowdhury.

In his statement Hannan had said Rahman was directly involved in the attack along with the then junior home minister Lutfozzaman Babar and deputy education minister Abdus Salam Pintu.

"Tarique Zia (Rahman) assured us of giving all kinds of cooperation... then we held a series of secret meetings at several places, including Mohammadpur, to kill Sheikh Hasina and Awami League leaders," Hannan had deposed before a magistrate in his confessional statement.

Three former police chiefs and some military officials who were posted at DGFI at that time are among 17 people facing trial in the case.