The number belongs to one Fayzur Rahman, the central publicity secretary of Bangladesh Awami Olama League and staff reporter of the Daily Sylheter Dak.
Fayzur claimed that he had been falsely implicated in these sort of matters for long.
“Someone is cloning my SIM card. I have informed the police commissioner of Sylhet about it and hope that the police will provide me with necessary help and protection in this regard,” he said in a statement issued to the media.
One Abdul Haque, who is now in custody and facing trial, had used Fayzur’s number and threatened several ministers and MPs in 2013, Fayzur said.
“The same thing is happening now,” he added.
The targets of the threats so far are noted teachers including Prof Anu Muhammad, Prof Morshed Shafiul Hasan, Prof Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Prof Yasmeen Haque, secular writer and publisher Moinul Ahsan Saber, poet Imtiaz Mahmud and Director General of Bangla Academy Shamsuzzaman Khan.
Six of them filed general diaries with Rampura, Mirpur, Gulshan and Shahbagh police in Dhaka and the Jalalabad police in Sylhet. However, it could not be learned whether Imtiaz had filed any general diary or not.
Akhter Hossain, officer-in-charge of Jalalabad police, told the Dhaka Tribune that Prof Zafar Iqbal had filed a general diary on Friday night after getting the threat. Security measures have been taken in this connection.
He said that no person had been arrested yet. He added that they were not sure about Fayzur’s involvement though the number had been registered under his name.
The same number was listed last year when madrasa teacher Abdul Haque was detained in connection to sending threats to a number of intellectuals including ruling party ministers and Professor Emeritus Anisuzzaman.
Dhaka Tribune approached Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) Secretary Sarwar Alam and the Airtel’s head of PR Shamit Shahbuddin asking how someone’s SIM card could be used for a crime despite being biometrically registered. Both of them declined to comment.
“Since this is a sensitive matter, the designated official is not making any comment,” said an official of Airtel, wishing anonymity.
An IT specialist told the Dhaka Tribune that making calls and sending text messages using a false number or someone else’s number can be done over the internet.
This is called “number masking” and it is illegal in Bangladesh, the expert said.
“As far as I know the BTRC monitors these things,” the specialist said.
“However, anyone can do it. If someone is doing it from abroad, it will be hard to detect.”
What was in the threats
Among those who received the threats, Prof Anu Muhammad, one of the main organisers of “Save the Sundarbans” movement, was threatened twice.
The first text, received around 1am Thursday, says: “Death keeps no calendar, and Ansatullah knows no time!”
It may be that the sender wanted to mean Ansarullah, a banned militant outfit responsible for the murder of a dozen secular activists, bloggers and publishers in recent years. The second text message reads: “Say ‘yes’ to Rampal, otherwise you must will be hacked to death incredibly by us!” This was received at 8:43pm on October 13 when Prof Anu was filing a GD with Rampura police station.
Prof Anu, who teaches economics at Jahangirnagar University, recently came under fire from ruling party leaders and activists for campaigning against the 1320MW coal-based power plant at Rampal, being implemented near the Sundarbans mangrove forest by an India-Bangladesh joint venture company.
The threat to Morshed Shafiul Hasan reads: “Do you wish to lose your top from neck? If don’t so, turn on the way to Islam ...” He received the text at 12:26am on October 13.
“Welcome to our new top list. You will be killed today or tomorrow! – ISIS,” says the threat sent to writer Moinul Ahsan Saber on October 13 evening.
Bangla Academy DG Shamsuzzaman Khan received the message around 12:40am Friday. It reads: “You have to go [sic] hell. We will take a dangerous operation on you. JMB -2.”
Two texts were received by SUST professors Zafar and Yasmeen at 2:30am and 12:15am on Wednesday when they were at their Banani DOHS residence in Dhaka. One of the texts was sent by ABT, presumably outlawed group Ansarullah.
The text to Prof Yasmeen reads: “Welcome to our new top list! Your breath may at anytime. ABT.” Meanwhile, Prof Zafar’s text says: “Hi unbeliever! We will strangulate you soon.”
Rampura police Inspector (investigation) Kazi Shahan Haq said: “We are doing our own investigation and have also sought help from the Detective Branch of police for the sake of investigation.”
Joint Commissioner of DMP DB Abdul Baten told the Dhaka Tribune that they were doing a shadow investigation on the threats issued to several eminent citizens inside Dhaka.
On October 13, just after the threat was issued to Prof Anu Muhammad, the Dhaka Tribune asked him whether he suspected anyone behind such threats. “I do not know. It can be anyone. Only the investigation can unveil this mystery,” he replied.
Asked whether he sees any link between the threats from the ruling party and the latest threat, he said: “There is one link. Both the groups are trying to spread panic in the society. Anyone, any group who is criticising the ruling party’s steps, are facing threats … anybody against extremism is also facing threats.”
According to media reports, State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid Bipu in his Facebook post recently said that the anti-Rampal activists were linked to Jamaat-e-Islami, the infamous anti-liberation party.
On the other hand, ruling Awami League’s Publicity Secretary Hasan Mahmud, also a former environment minister, has warned that patriots might break the legs of the anti-Rampal activists if they go to the project area.