Associates have snatched two death-row militants from the court premises in a daring escape that has undeniably raised a question: was it police’s shortcoming or dereliction of duty?
In a case over the incident, police said the militants carried out an attack on police on orders from their fugitive leader Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque alias Major Zia, a sacked army officer, to free the convicts.
They used two motorcycles and managed to free Moinul Hasan Shamim alias Samir aka Imran and Abu Siddique Sohel alias Shakib aka Sajid alias Shahab on Sunday. Sohel was sentenced to death over the murder of writer-blogger Avijit Roy while both Sohel and Moinul were given the death penalty for the killing of Avijit’s publisher Faysal Arefin Dipan.
The militants sprayed some chemicals on the eyes of the policemen escorting the convicts to the prison van from the court after the hearing in another case. As many as 12 accused in the case were produced in court and one of them walked free on bail after the hearing.
Two other convicts, Md Arafat Rahman and Md Abdus Sabur, tried to flee by assaulting the policemen injured in the spray attack, but other law enforcers caught them.
Forman Ali, a former jail superintendent, said the prison authorities are not responsible for inmates after handing them to police.
Molla Nazrul Islam, the commissioner of Gazipur Metropolitan Police, also denied responsibility for the incident, saying they had transferred the prisoners to court police.
Court police officials declined to comment on the incident, as Dhaka Metropolitan Police formed a five-strong committee to find out what caused it. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said anyone found negligent will face action.
A member of the committee, requesting anonymity, said they are looking into the allegations of negligence. “We’re checking how many were on duty, how the security arrangement was and whether there is anything else.”
Police launched a massive manhunt to recapture the escaped militants. The law enforcers also announced a red alert and Tk 2 million in rewards for information leading to the capture of the convicts.
The militants involved in Sunday’s incident are members of the banned group Ansar Al Islam.
Militants of another group, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh or JMB, snatched away three of their leaders – Salauddin Salehin, Jahidul Islam alias Bomaru Mizan and Rakibul Hasan – by attacking a prison van while they were being transported in Mymensingh’s Trishal in 2014.
Salehin is still on the run. Rakibul died in a so-called shootout with law enforcement and Mizan was arrested in India.
Ansar Al Islam leader Ziaul has been absconding since the beginning.
‘NEGLIGENCE, EXTREME UNPROFFESSIONAlSM’
AKM Shahidul Haque, former inspector general of police, sees both negligence and unprofessionalism of the force in the latest episode.
“It’s a sad incident. The guidelines for the transportation of militants or daring prisoners have been issued several times. The guidelines have mentioned everything: the responsibilities of the prison authorities, what to do if the accused is a militant, what kind of measures police should take.”
“Here I saw gross negligence on the par of all concerned. Gross unprofessionalism.”
Shahidul, who served as police chief from 2014 to 2018, said: "Action must be taken against those who are responsible for such negligence. Departmental action should be taken against those responsible.”
Police officers said the convicts were not restrained with legcuffs as it is forbidden by court.
Khandaker Farzana Rahman, chairperson of Dhaka University’s criminology department, thinks police and prison authorities have quite a bit of weakness.
“First of all, there has been a kind of negligence by police. There has been gross negligence on the part of the jail police or the court police, whichever was in charge. Secondly, the identification of the networks they [negligent policemen] have is also very important.”
Associate Professor Farzana saw a lack of alertness in transporting daring prisoners.
"Police should always have a type of extraordinary surveillance for those who are at such a senior level within the militant groups."
According to her, there were indications in recent times of the rise of militant organisations again ahead of the general election next year
Both Shahidul and Farzana think that there was a lack of intelligence as well.
Shahidul said, “Police should be more proactive. Intelligence agencies need to be more proactive. A special team should be formed for the militants. It' should not be taken for routine work or put in the gutter."
He emphasised increasing police’s connection with people for information. "People won’t give information if they do not trust police."
Advising against indulging in complacency in rooting out militancy, the former police chief said, “Militants have followers. They have relatives and friends. They have not completely disappeared.
"Now the militants are trying [to rise again]. They have made it known by snatching away their associates in front of thousands of people in the court.”
Farzana said: "It may be possible to suppress militancy for some time. But since militancy is an ideology, it is much easier to spread.
“As their recruitment is going on online, we are seeing many youths have gone missing since July or August. At the same time, the election is coming. All in all, I feel that they have started a kind of conspiracy.”
“It's not that they ran away themselves, A network was involved. I think it is the responsibility of police to find those who helped them."