Aslam Hossain alias Rashed, who was a brilliant student, was drawn to militancy after being exposed to militant propaganda videos online during his college years.
He left home at the end of 2015 to walk the path of militancy and rose through the ranks quickly. He gradually earned the trust of Tamim Chowdhury, one of New JMB's leading figures.
The 23-year-old was closely involved in last year's Gulshan terror attack, investigators said. Beside being one of the planners of the attack, he supplied arms, was part of the recce team and looked after the five attackers.
In the New JMB, he was in-charge of the media, and training camp coordinator for new recruits, the counter-terrorism unit said.
Rashed was arrested in Natore on Friday morning and had been brought to Dhaka. He will be produced before the court as an accused in the Gulshan attack case.
“He was one of the planners of the Gulshan attack,” Counter-terrorism unit Deputy Commissioner Mohibul Islam Khan said, adding that they hoped to get more information during interrogation.
Five terrorists stormed into an upscale restaurant at the heart of Dhaka's diplomatic zone and killed 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, and two police officers, on July 1 last year. The 12-hour siege ended after army commandos stormed the cafe and killed the terrorists.
Investigators said Rashed, son of Abdus Salam from Naogaon, became radicalised after watching online videos during his days at Rajshahi's New Government Degree College. When he came to Dhaka, Tamim and Marjan – two top New JMB leaders who were killed in alleged gunfights with security forces – supervised Rashed's exam.
They were elated at Rashed's enthusiasm and knowledge and decided that he did not need initial training that other new recruits required. Rashed started living with Tamim and Marjan.
“He gradually became an important figure in the New JMB,” a counter-terrorism official said. Tamim put him in charge of their media and communications cell and looking after new recruits.
Rashed arranged training for the recruits, rented houses for them, among other things. During initial interrogation, he said his primary task was to receive new recruits who would travel to Dhaka and take them to training camps.
Checking the family background of aspiring militants to see if law enforcers were sending in their men in disguise was also his task. “He was sort of a detective of the New JMB,” the counter-terrorism official added.
His name first came up in a confessional statement by Tanvir Qaderi's son who told a court on September 22 last year how Rashed and another militant, who went by the alias 'chocolate', paid them a visit and told them to rent a house in Pallabi.
Rashed stayed with Tamim all the time, counter-terrorism officials said. He also worked as Tamim's messenger and was one of his most trusted lieutenants.
A counter-terrorism official said Rashed passed the secondary school exams in 2013 from Rajshahi's Naohata School before enrolling in the New Government Degree College. He went to a coaching centre to prepare for IELTS in 2014.
At that time, he used to watch videos of Ansarullah Bangla Team's spiritual leader Jasimuddin Rahmai and al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. When he wanted to take part in 'jihad', he approached Rajshahi University student Forhad, who himself was involved in militancy.
Forhad introduced him to Rajshahi University's English department student and New JMB leader Shariful Islam Khaled, who inducted Rashed into the organisation.
During initial interrogation, Rashed said he first met Tamim Chowdhury and Abdus Samad alias Mamu alias Arif in February 2015 and left Rajshahi for Dhaka at Tamim's order. At that time, he used to live with Khaled.
Training camp coordinator
Counter-terrorism officials said Rashed acted as the coordinator of the training camps. Each camp was organised with five or six recruits and had three trainers.
Rashed organised the training by coordinating with other trainers. The new recruits were taught how to fire weapons and given lessons in militant ideology.
“Rashed is very smart,” a counter-terrorism official said. “He knows a lot about IT. He used to open IDs of the militants in various secret apps.”
Involvement in Gulshan attack
Beside taking part in the planning, Rashed did other things like receive arms and grenades used in the cafe attack.
“Militants Chhoto Mizan and Hadisur Rahman Sagar brought the firearms and grenades used in the Holey Artisan attack to their Shewrapara hideout in Dhaka,” a counter-terrorism official said.
“Rashed and Marjan received the consignment and took it to a Bashundhara house where the five attackers had been kept,” the official added.
Another official, involved with the investigation, said Rashed maintained close ties with Tamim, Marjan, Chocolate, Rajib Gandhi and some other militants.
“He was involved in every stage of carrying out the attack. He had direct communication with the five terrorists and had arranged training for the attackers,” the counter-terrorism official added.
This story was first published in Bangla Tribune