21st August 2004: The Day When Humanity Stood Ashamed


Published on August 20, 2021
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21st of August, another dark August day of Bangladesh's politics. On this day, in 2004, grenades and bullets were deployed in a crowded area of Dhaka city for assassinating the entire top leadership of Bangladesh Awami League; the day when the Central Office of Awami League at Bangabandhu Avenue became a scene of carnage and mayhem.

During the golden period of terrorism and militancy under BNP Jamaat rule of 2001-06, the attack was carried out in broad daylight with a simple objective: Eliminate Sheikh Hasina and everyone else capable of leading Bangladesh’s oldest and largest political party. The fact that many in BNP, including Ministers, were directly and/or indirectly involved with this shameful act of political terrorism has now been made clear by the very people involved in the acts themselves. The masks now stand exposed.

Although the human shield created by workers and activists around the Party President Sheikh Hasina was able to save her from the splinter infested onslaught, many like senior women leader Ivy Rahman and 24 other activists of Awami League were not so lucky. Additionally, more than 500 activists and spectators still carry the wounds with live splinters inside their bodies as a testimony to the horror of that fateful day. Many had been left permanently handicapped. One of the most senior leaders of Bangladesh Awami League’s Dhaka city unit, and former Mayor of Dhaka, Mohammad Hanif died a few years later from the wounds sustained on 21st August 2004.

The assassins not only wanted to rid the country of Awami League, but their acts were also part of the broader plan to destroy the only organized group in Bangladesh holding the torch of democracy, the spirit of Liberation War and the ideals of the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Rivers of blood flowed in front of Awami League’s Central Office where the party was holding a demonstration protesting the crimes and terrorism being patronized by the then government of BNP and its fundamentalist allies Jamaat E Islami and other radical outfits. The severity of the incident was akin to another fateful day of 15th August 1975, the day when the nation lost its founding architect and almost his entire family.

Although Sheikh Hasina escaped the full brunt of the attack, nonetheless her hearing ability was impaired as a result of the blasts reminiscent of wartime sounds. Late former President Zillur Rahman was not only injured himself but had to see the limbless body of his loving wife, Ivy Rahman. Although the heinous crime generated widespread criticisms and concerns, the then government led by BNP-Jamaat not only failed to their due role in bringing the perpetrators to book but in fact, attempted nakedly to divert the investigation with vested interests, with allegations of evidence tampering and coaching dummy defendants. However, with the advent of time, people got to know of the real facts behind the crime. The investigation has revealed that one of the then deputy ministers of BNP-Jamaat government, Abdus Salam Pintu was directly involved with the militants carrying out the offensives.

The families of the victims from that day demanded justice for their sufferings of losing loved ones. The then BNP-Jamaat led government attempted cover-up, diversion of investigation and evidence tampering and destruction. It is now widely accepted that the ploy to present a certain JoJ Mia was orchestrated by none other than Hawa Bhaban, the notorious political office of BNP’s exiled Senior Vice President Tareque Rahman. After the grand alliance government assumed power in 2009, they reinvestigated and submitted charge-sheet for one of the bloodiest political terrorism incidents in Bangladesh’s history. The investigation has revealed the source of the military-grade grenades which were used for the attacks. During the course of investigations, such BNP leaders as former State Minister for Home Lutfuzzaman Babor, City Councilor Ariful Islam Arif etc were arrested.

7 years passed after the heinous 21st August attack, an extensive investigation was ordered and about 2 years later on 3rd July 2011 a complementary charge sheet was submitted to the court. Then special police super Abdul Kahar Akand of CID was entrusted with the investigation. He submitted this supplementary charge sheets for two separate cases on the killings and the explosives. In this new supplementary charge sheet, Akand accused 30 and Tarique Rahman was among them. During the submission of the chargesheet, 18 of them were fugitives. After 6 police officers surrendered to the court and sent to jail the number of fugitives became 12.

The day was a Saturday. There was a meeting arranged by Awami League at the Bangabandhu Avenue in the afternoon and chief guest to that meeting was the main opposition leader at that time, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Thousands of people gathered in that meeting. There was a scheduled anti-terrorism rally after the end of the meeting. So, instead of building a stage, they were using a truck-lorry as a makeshift stage. After other members gave their speeches, Sheikh Hasina began to speak. She even had finished her speech. It was 5:22 pm in the afternoon. "Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu", she said ending her speech in her usual way and folding the paper of the speech she started for the stairs of the truck to climb down from there. All on a sudden, the sound of grenades signalled the breaking of all hell.

Grenades exploded in tremendous horrid noises. The lively Bangabandhu Avenue turned into a death valley in no time. The assassins were blasting the grenades one after another. Before anyone could get a hold of the situation, 13 gruesome grenades turned the entire meeting arena into a wad of flesh and blood. The whole area seemed to be rivers of blood only. Sheikh Hasina was the main target of the assassins. The leaders who were on top of the truck and the personal security officials of Sheikh Hasina created a human shield to protect her. At the cost of the sacrifices of the leaders and the bodyguards and by the blessings of the Almighty, Sheikh Hasina's life was saved.

In order to succeed in their devious endeavour to make another bloody 15th August, the consecutive 13 grenade charges were not enough, the assassins wanted to make sure that Sheikh Hasina was not spared under any circumstances by shooting a number of shots to her car as well. This targeted and planned attack was not successful because of the bulletproof glasses on her car. But in an attempt to save her from the bullets of the murderers, her personal security guard lance corporal (retd) Mahbubur Rashid gave his life being a human shield.

Life of Sheikh Hasina was saved from the planned attack, but the area became a valley of death that day. Hundreds of people were tattered with the splinters of the grenades. Among the sudden deaths and blood-bathed legs, hands and other limbs of human bodies of the peaceful people were spread around everywhere. Some lost their hands, some their limbs. The black roads turned red with the colour of blood. Some were asking help to save their lives, fervidity of the dying people, stricken screams made it an indescribable agonizing scene.

Persons killed
In that bloody incident of 21st August, 16 people died on the spot. Later the number totalled into 24. The women leader Ivy Rahman died fighting with death for 58 hours on the 24th of August. After being injured and fighting with death for about one and half years a very popular leader of Awami League and the first-ever elected Mayor of Dhaka City, Mohammad Hanif passed away too. Others killed in that horrific-bloody incident include Sheikh Hasina's bodyguard lance corporal (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, Hasina Momtaz, Rizia Begum, Rofikul Islam (much admired Ada Chacha to everyone), Ratan Shikdar, Mohammad Hanif a.k.a freedom-fighter Hanif, Moshtak Ahmed, Liton Munshi, Abdul Kuddus Patwary, Billal Hossain, Abbas Uddin Sikdar, Atik Sarkar, Mamun Mridha, Nasiruddin, Abul Kashem, Abul Kalam Azad, Abdur Rahim, Aminul Islam, Jahed Ali, Motaleb and Sufia Begum.