As political assassinations go, you could hardly get any more brazen. It took place in the middle of a crowded street, stopping traffic from all directions. The sheer audacity of the act seems to freeze everyone on the road, allowing the shooter to leave the scene fairly calmly, on a motorcycle that pulls up nearby at just the right moment, clearly well-coordinated, and from the looks of it, well-practised. The assassin's only mistake, if one can call it that, was to have killed an innocent bystander as well.
In recent times, the brazenness of the act is perhaps matched only by the murder of Riazul Haq Milky back in 2013 - intriguingly, a murder which would seem to have been connected to the one last week in more than just stylistic values. That too was caught largely on CCTV, it all happened in the open (right outside Gulshan's Shoppers World), and the assailants made off in a motorcycle that pulled up as he completed his killing mission.
Coming back to the latest incident, two people, including a former local Awami League leader, were shot to death in the Shahjahanpur neighbourhood of Dhaka late on Thursday (March 28).
Victim Jahidul Islam Tipu, 55, was the former general secretary of the ruling party's Motijheel unit. He was the one who lorded over the party's muscle power and fundraising initiatives in the Motijheel area, ever since the death of Milkyi.
Twenty-year-old Samia Afran Prity, who was a student of Begum Badrunnesa Govt Girls' College, was travelling on a rickshaw with her friend when she was shot.
Monir Hossain Munna, the driver of Tipu's car, told reporters that they were on their way home when some unidentified assailants opened fire on them, wounding both of them.
Meanwhile, Prity's friend Sumaiya said they had gone out on an excursion and were going to Sumaiya's home in Tilpara when they heard gunshots and suddenly Prity got shot as well.
Locals rushed them to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where the doctors declared Tipu and Prity dead, said Deputy Commissioner Abdul Ahad of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khansaid the investigation into the murder of Awami League leader Jahidul Islam Tipu was ongoing. Who is behind this murder will be brought before the people through the media. Whoever is involved in this incident, no one will be spared.
The Home Minister was responding to a question from reporters after paying homage at the Shaheed Memorial at Rajarbagh Police Lines in the capital on Saturday (March 26) morning.
In response to another question, the Home Minister said that he did not want to comment on whether the killing was political or not. Hopefully, we will be able to unravel the mystery of this murder very soon. We are working on it considering the crime. And we will bring those involved in this crime under the law. The concerned have been directed to complete it in a timely manner.
Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Dr Benazir Ahmed, DMP Commissioner of Police Moha Shafiqul Islam, heads of various intelligence agencies, and senior police officials were present on the occasion.
Former general secretary of Motijheel Thana Awami League Jahidul Islam alias Tipu was shot dead in the area of Amtala Mosque in Shahjahanpur on Thursday night. At that time, college student Samia Afrin Preeti (22) was stuck in a traffic jam on the road. She too was shot dead. The driver of the microbus carrying Tipu was also shot in the incident.
Tipu's wife Farhana Islam Dolly is a reserved female councilor of Dhaka South City Corporation. She filed a murder case (No. 18) against Shahjahanpur police station on Friday (March 25) at noon. However, no case was filed on behalf of the family of the murdered student Preeti.
Old wounds revisited
Tipu was an accused in the killing of Jubo League leader Riazul Haque Khan Milki in Gulshan in 2013. His name would eventually be dropped from the chargesheet submitted by RAB in the case, and two supplementary chargesheets submitted by CID. Juba League's Dhaka Metropolitan (south) unit organising secretary Milki died after being shot several times in the head in front of Gulshan's Shopper World on July 3 last year. A closed-circuit camera in the shopping mall picked up the entire incident.
RAB had arrested the same Juba League unit's leader Jahid Siddiqui Tarek with injuries from a hospital after Milki was killed.
He was also identified as the shooter from the CCTV footage.
Tarek later died in an alleged encounter between his supporters and RAB in Khilkhet - in the history of 'crossfires', this may well have been the most blatant one of them all.
Tarek, a leader of the party's youth front Jubo League, was killed hours after he murdered fellow partyman Riazul Haque Khan Milky, firing bullets from a close range in front of a shopping mall at Gulshan area.
Milky's murder sparked wide sensation as the TV channels carried the footages grabbed by the close circuit cameras of the shipping complex, visibly beyond the knowledge of Tarek, who was also wounded as an accomplice shot him on the foot.
"The people saw in the television that Tarek fled the scene in a motorbike immediately after the murder, but we tracked him down at the private Fortune Hospital at the Uttara area within hours as he was being treated there for his own injury," a RAB spokesman said.
He said Tarek was killed in a "crossfire" shortly after RAB obtained his release from the hospital as his condition improved and was taking him to a police station in a microbus.
"A group of 10 to 12 criminals attacked the microbus firing gunshots, forcing our boys to retaliate... After the brief encounter, Tarek was found dead inside the bus while one of the attackers was also killed in the shootout," he said.
Lt Col Kismat Hayat of RAB said two members of the elite force also suffered injuries during the shootout but their wounds were not serious.
The elite force also arrested six others in connection with the murder, and handed them over to police, who are investigating the case.
According to media reports, 43-year-old Milky was once political mentor of Tarek but they subtly developed hostility over an election for councillorship of the city corporation. It was said that Tipu had led Tarek to turn against Milki. Later when Tarek was caught, Tipu may have cut him off as well, to keep his tracks clean. In that reading, Tipu orchestrated the 'crossfire' of Tarek.
The shooter is just the messenger
Last Sunday, one Masum Mohammad, who goes by the alias Akash, was about to leave the country, when detectives caught him in Bogura over the killing of Tipu, Additional Commissioner AKM Hafiz Akhter of the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police claimed at a media briefing.
The 34-year-old man was given the hit job five days before the murder and was informed about Tipu as the target two days later, Hafiz said without mentioning any possible motive behind the murder.
However, police could neither recover the firearm used in the murders nor the motorcycle on which the suspect fled the scene, he said.
The additional commissioner said Masum disclosed the names of several other suspects. "We will interrogate him on remand and let you know the details of his associates, masterminds and motives," he said.
Asked how detectives were so sure that Masum was the suspect without the weapon or the motorcycle, he said the security camera footage and other evidence corroborated their findings.
Masum admitted that he shot the firearm and disclosed the name of the man who rode the motorcycle on which he arrived at the scene and fled, said the officer. The suspect, he said, told officers that he was already accused in four to five cases, including one for murder. "During primary interrogation, Masum said he agreed to kill Tipu because those who assigned him promised to get him off the cases."
Visiting Masum's home in the capital's Dakkhin Madertek, journalists learned that Masum got involved in Bangladesh Chhatra League in college and used to hang out with friends a little too much. His father, the teacher of a school in Segunbagicha, was not okay with his lifestyle, family members of Masum said.
After his father drove him out of the house around 15 years ago, he never returned or contacted his parents, said his mother.
"My son was a polite boy and a brilliant student in school. I do not believe that he can kill anyone," she told this correspondent. "We heard that he got married and was the father of a three-year-old child."
Additional Commissioner Hafiz at the press conference said police were focusing on several aspects of the case.
"We have arrested the lone shooter. Now we will try to find who instructed him ... who were his associates and what were the motives behind the murder. We are also trying to recover the firearm and the motorcycle," he said.
Several local ruling party leaders and law enforcers said Tipu's murder could be linked to his rise in local politics, his control over tenders in Bangladesh Krira Parishad and Power Development Board and his alleged involvement in a couple of previous murders.
Detectives said the day before Tipu got killed, Masum along with an associate waited around Tipu's office at AGB Colony in Motijheel with a pistol. But they failed to kill him.
Masum and the associate went the next day in front of a restaurant Tipu owns in Motijheel AGB Colony area, but failed to kill him as he was surrounded by people. They then followed his microbus and opened fire when his vehicle got stuck in traffic near Amtala Masjid.
After the killing, he went to a hideout with the help of two friends, the Detective Branch said in a press release.
Hafiz said Masum told officers that he did not see who else got shot in the Thursday murders.
Tipu was returning home at Khilgaon Bagichha from his restaurant in Motijheel AGB Colony around 10:15pm on Thursday when he, his driver and a college student, Samia Afran Jamal Prity, who happened to be on a rickshaw next to the microbus, got shot.
Tipu and Prity were pronounced dead after being taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Masum and his associates went to Joypurhat in a vehicle the next day and made a failed attempt to go across the border. He then came back to Bogura where he got arrested.
Tipu's wife Farhana Islam Dolly, a women councillor in Motijheel area, said she wanted to see the mastermind arrested. The elite force took Dolly, a Dhaka South City Corporation reserve ward councillor, to the RAB-3 office in Tikatuli around 10 pm on Monday. Later they dropped her at home around midnight.
Dolly said the authorities spoke to her prior to the press briefing to see if she had any information. "They wanted to know if he [Tipu] had shared any information with me as I'm his wife. They asked if I suspected anyone. They also wanted to know about the current political situation in ward 10," she said.
When asked, RAB-3 chief Lt Col Arif Mohiuddin said they spoke to Tipu's wife to 'get some information' from her.
Dolly filed the case over the incident. No suspects were named.
Tipu was a suspect in the murder case of Jubo League leader Riazul Haque Khan Milky a decade ago. He received a death threat over the phone four to five days ago, his wife mentioned in the case dossier. On Monday, political leaders and activists reported that the RAB 'picked Dolly up her from home'. Later that night, around forty leaders and activists gathered in front of Dolly's house in Khilgaon. They said that the RAB had brought her back home.
Journalists were not allowed to enter Dolly's home afterwards. One of her relatives said she was 'quite sick' and could not walk properly as her legs were swollen.
"That's why she didn't want to go to the RAB office at night, but the officers forced her to go. Three of her female relatives accompanied her."
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