Commando blitz ends Bangladesh plane hijack drama; suspect dies, all passengers, crew unharmed

In the first hijack drama to hit Bangladesh in decades, a lone man has been shot dead in a commando blitz on a Biman Bangladesh Airlines plane he seized mid-air brandishing a toy pistol and an “explosives belt” at the Chattogram airport.

Liton Haider Mintu Chowdhury and Golam Mujtaba Dhrubabdnews24.com
Published : 24 Feb 2019, 12:34 PM
Updated : 24 Feb 2019, 10:52 PM

The suspect pointed the “gun” at the passengers and threatened to fire shots shortly after the Dubai-bound Boeing 737 took off from Shahjalal International Airport on Sunday afternoon for its regular stop-over at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram.

He demanded to speak with his wife and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about an issue with his wife, officials said.

Tension roiled when special forces surrounded the plane at the airport after it landed at 5:41pm, forcing the authorities there to stop all flights in and out if the airport.

After efforts to talk the suspect into giving up proved futile, army commandos stormed the plane in an eight-minute operation to end the standoff. By then, all 134 passengers and crew members had disembarked safely from the jetliner styled "Mayurpankhi".

The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh or CAAB Chairman M Naim Hassan told the media in Dhaka around 8pm that security forces took full control of the aircraft after capturing the suspect, who identified himself as “Mahadi”, in an injured state in the operation that ended at 7:25pm.

After around another hour, the army’s GOC in Chattogram, Major General SM Matiur Rahman, told the media that the suspect, 25 to 26 years old, had died.

The incident brought flight operations at the airport to a screeching halt for more than two hours.

The operations resumed at 8pm, the CAAB chief said. The first flight after the incident landed at the airport at 10:02pm.

The CAAB said they would investigate if there were any security lapses as it is unclear how the suspect boarded the plane with a “gun”.

The civil aviation and tourism ministry has formed a three-strong committee to investigate the incident.

In 1977, a Japan Air Lines plane with 156 on board was hijacked and forced to land in Dhaka after it left Mumbai airport.

The hijackers released the hostages gradually in different airports across the globe after the Japanese government accepted the hijackers' demands.

“GUNSHOTS FIRED MID-FLIGHT”

Two passengers of the flight claimed that the suspect fired multiple shots after wielding the “pistol” at the passengers.

One of them, Osman Goni from Pekua in Cox’s Bazar, said he reached Dhaka from Oman earlier on Sunday and took the flight BG147 to Chattogram from Dhaka airport in the afternoon.

“That person pulled a pistol 15 minutes after the start of the flight. He told the passengers that he would open fire if anyone stood up or moved. The passengers panicked. He then fired some rounds,” Goni said.

Osman Goni

Videos posted on social media showed the emergency gate of the plane opening after it landed. A group of passengers then alighted from the plane.

Some of them were seen speaking in horror. One of them was thanking the pilot.

Sadman Sakib, one of the passengers, said he was shaken by the incident.

“I was at the rear of the plane. The hijacker was also there. He suddenly walked to the front. Then we heard two gunshots. Everybody panicked. We got off through the emergency gate when the plane landed,” he said.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal also told bdnews24.com earlier that he heard the suspect pointed a gun at the pilot.

Mayeenuddin Khan Badal MP, who was aboard the plane, told Somoy TV that the pilot was with him when he got off the plane.

“The pilot said that the hijacker tried to pursue him to have a conversation with Sheikh Hasina,” Badal told the private TV station.  

COMMANDO RAID

Members of the army, air force, navy and police’s SWAT unit took position at the airport before the operation started sometime after 7pm.

Colonel Abdullah Ibne Zayed, a spokesman for the military’s press wing ISPR, told bdnews24.com at 7:15 that the commandos launched the operation.

CAAB Chairman Naim in the news conference around 8pm said the commandos had stormed the plane after all passengers and crew members got off.

All on board the plane but a crew member named ‘Sagor’ disembarked safely first and Sagor also emerged from the plane later, he said.  

The security forces carried out the eight-minute storming from 7:17pm following instructions from the prime minister, Naim said.

Earlier after 7:30pm, Air Vice Marshal Muhammad Mafidur Rahman from a Bangladesh Air Force base in Chattogram said the suspect had been arrested following a successful “combing operation”. 

“I kept him busy in conversations. He said he did not harm any passenger but had only one demand – he wanted to talk to the prime minister and his family,” Mafidur said. 

“He held the cabin crews hostage. I talked to him and managed to free all. Air force officials used cranes to get them out. I tried to keep him busy continuously during the commando operation,” he said.

“The suspect has been detained unharmed. The plane is also unharmed,” he had added.   

Briefing the media around 8:45pm, Maj Gen Matiur thanked Mafidur for successfully engaging the suspect in conversations in aid of the army commandos.

Lieutenant Colonel Imrul Hasan, who had led the commando operation to free hostages in the Holey Artisan Bakery terror attack in Dhaka in 2016, led this airport operation as well, Matiur added.

“We first tried to restrain him. As he continued being aggressive, the operation was conducted. He was injured initially. We later heard that he died. We had an action inside the plane and he died outside,” the army officer said.

The control room came to know about the incident for the first time at 5:33pm, the plane landed at 5:41pm and the commandos arrived in the airport around 6pm, according to him.

“Two things need to be done simultaneously to tackle any plane hijack incident – communicating with the hijacker continuously and getting ready for a raid. We’ve done both.”

Commandos surround the body of the suspect

UNIDENTIFIED SUSPECT WITH A TOY PISTOL

The “pistol” the suspect was carrying was actually a fake one, Chattogram Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mahabubor Rahman told the media on Sunday night.

“The gun with him is actually fake, a toy pistol,” said.

The suspect’s identity was not confirmed and his motive was unclear. 

Police were investigating the incident, but were yet to get any details on the suspect’s identity, the CMP commissioner said.

“We are working on it. I hope we’ll get it very soon,” Mahabubor added.  

Army Officer Matiur earlier said, “We didn’t have much time to speak to him and we conducted the commando operation because we wanted to end the situation within the shortest possible time.”

State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Md Mahbub Ali told a TV station that suspect hijacked the plane “after a film actress had refused to marry him”.

Maj Gen Matiur said: “The pilot had thought that he (hijacker) was a foreigner. But actually he is a Bangladeshi.”

He also said it would take time to check the papers and luggage of the suspect.

“He was carrying a pistol and nothing else. He said he carrying a bomb on his body, maybe he indicated to the wires around his body. Investigation will reveal what it was,” Matiur said.

Both Matiur and Naim said the suspect appeared to be “mentally imbalanced”.

SECURITY MEASURES QUESTIONED

Many have questioned how the suspect, apparently carrying a gun and bomb, could slip through the security barriers to get on an international flight of the flag carrier.

“It is apparently impossible for such a person to cross the security barrier. We are investigating how he did it,” CAAB Chairman Naim said.

He said they would check security camera footages.

“Why these (fake pistol or bomb) would not be spotted if the machines can detect a nail cutter?” he asked, declining to comment further on the issue before investigation.   

The government committee to investigate the incident was formed on Sunday night on State Minister Mahbub Ali’s orders, said Tanvir Ahmed, a spokesman for the civil aviation and tourism ministry.

Jonendra Nath Sarker, a joint secretary, is heading the investigation.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher