Friday, March 24, 2016 – Atia Mahal 2
Abdul Haq Smriti Degree College mathematics lecturer Tapan Kumar Dey of Gobindaganj wakes at 6am every morning. That morning, the resident of flat No 10 on the second floor received a massive shock when he looked out from his balcony.
Law enforcement officers had cordoned off the five-storey building and its adjoining four-storey Atia Mahal 1.
“When I went out on the balcony, I saw a large number of law enforcers cordoning off the area. My wife told me she had heard that the security forces had been setting up in the area since the previous night,” he said while speaking with the Dhaka Tribune on Monday.
“When we heard that militants were hiding out in the ground floor of our building, we obviously panicked. I remember barricading our flat’s main door with a sofa, a bed and any other heavy furniture we had, trying to ensure that no one could break through the door.
“Every minute felt like a lifetime.”
Sylhet Metropolitan Police, Detective Branch and Rapid Action Battalion officers, who had arrived in the area after receiving information about militants hiding out in one of the two buildings, started issuing instructions for the trapped families via megaphones.
“Following the instructions, my parents, wife, son and I closed all the doors and windows and began waiting for help,” Tapan explained, adding: “It was surreal. We could not see what was happening outside and the intermittent sounds of gunfire and grenade blasts which shook the whole building made the situation all the more unnerving.
“By afternoon we heard that the Dhaka SWAT team was coming to rescue us. We became hopeful. But the longer we stayed locked in our houses, the more our hope began to wane. By nightfall, our rescue never came. We then heard that the army was going to join the operation. It was a throwback to the Dhaka Terror Attack at Holey Artisan and instead of feeling hope, all we felt was more oppressive fear.”
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An army para-commando evacuates a resident and a baby from Atia Mahal-1 in Pathanpara area of Shibbari, Sylhet on Saturday ISPR
Sabina Yasmin, who inhabits flat No 18 of Atia Mahal 2 along with her husband and two children, remembered barricading their front door, switching off all the lights, huddling under her bed with her family and praying.
“At some point, when our children fell asleep, my husband and I tried to formulate a plan for how to save them. At midday on Friday, my children woke up and began crying for food, but I was too frightened to go to the kitchen and cook something. I have never been so torn. It was heartbreaking trying to explain the situation to the children.”
Shipra Talukder, a government official who resides on the second floor with her husband, brother-in-law and two kids, said: “We were so confused and frightened. I could not even be a support to my children, because I was too scared. We were just praying to the Almighty.”
School teacher Peyali Chowdhury lives in a ground floor flat with her husband and two children. At 6am, they were able to hear gunshots coming from a nearby flat.
“We tried to open our door to see what was happening, but the door had been locked from the outside,” she said.
“Scared and in shock, we ran into the bedroom and locked the door and windows.
“It got even more frightening when the power went out.”
By Friday night, the law enforcement agencies had cut the supply of electricity and water to the building. Atia Mahal 1 had been evacuated of all families earlier when law enforcement officers stormed the building but found no militants there. For the residents of Atia Mahal 2, the horror was far from over.
Saturday, March 25, 2016 – Atia Mahal 2
There was no gas, water or electricity since Friday night. Many of the families had crowded together in bedrooms, under beds and in bathrooms. Too afraid to come out, they had also gone hungry.
After being trapped for 36 hours, their salvation finally came in the form of the 1st Para-Commando Battalion.
“At around 2pm on Saturday, we heard voices outside our door. We were terrified that the militants had come to attack us. But then I heard the sounds of their walkie-talkies and realised it had to be someone else. It turned out to be the army. I cannot even express how relieved we were,” said second floor resident Tapan.
“They came in like the heroes in movies. Armed angels who gave us a second chance at life.”
“Ladders were placed on the roof of Atia Mahal 2 from the roof of the adjacent building, Atia Mahal 1. Commandos then went floor by floor, evacuating each until they reached the second floor stairwell where they found improvised explosive devices placed on the stairs,” said Bangladesh Army Brigadier General Fakhrul Ahsan.
“The militants did not anticipate this move.
“Commandos then approached the ground floor from the outside. Window grills were cut and people were pulled out. The residents were then taken to a makeshift shelter set up at a nearby building.
“From 9:30am to 1pm, 78 people were rescued. Of them, 30 were men and 27 were women. A pregnant woman was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.”
“After keeping them under army supervision for a few hours, they were reunited with their relatives on Saturday night,” said Sylhet Metropolitan Police’s Additional Deputy Commissioner (Media) Jedan Al Musa.
Twenty-eight families, totalling 78 people, were rescued from Atia Mahal 2. The prevailing emotion was a sense of relief; many repeatedly thanked the para-commandos and stated they felt reborn.
For 36 hours, they had believed their lives were about to end. When the Bangladesh Army para-commandos came to the rescue, it felt like godsend to them. It was a horrifying experience none of them would ever forget. Many among the rescued, especially women and children, now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their families say that they either do not sleep at all or wake frequently because of nightmares.