Militants gave death threats to more than 60 eminent personalities roughly two years ago on different occasions, and Prof Muhammed Zafar Iqbal was one of them.
An intelligence report was also sent to the home ministry expressing concern in this regard.
In May 21, 2015, Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) issued a letter to 10 eminent personalities, including Zafar Iqbal, threatening to kill them.
ABT’s letter read: “You must prepare for death,” followed by the names of the personalities.
After that, Zafar Iqbal and his wife got another death threat over SMS on their mobile phones on October 12, 2016 when they were residents of Banani DOHS.
The message, signed by Ansarullah Bangla Team, read: “Welcome to our new top list! Your breath may stop at anytime. abt.”
Around 2:30am on the day, another SMS was received on Zafar’s mobile phone which read: “Hi unbeliever! We will strangle you soon.”
General dairies were filed with concerned police stations several times in this regard, police said.
Later, police headquarters deployed 12 policemen for Zafar Iqbal’s protection at all time.
Jalalabad police station OC Shafiqul Islam said: “Zafar Iqbal has been provided police protection of 12 policemen at all time. The policemen moved around with him everywhere he went. Now [after the murder attempt], the number of police has been increased to 28-30 men.”
Anti-Terrorism Unit chief Additional IGP Mohammad Shafiqul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune: “We are looking into whether Foyzur Rahman Faizul [the attacker] is a member of any militant outfit or he carried out the attack on his own.”
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) initially assumed that Faizul alias Shafiqur has militant connection, said RAB-9 commanding officer Col Ali Haider Azad, at a press conference on Sunday.
“There are discrepancies in the information we received from Faizul. We are already interrogating three other suspects. Such an attack cannot be carried out alone.”
After the attack on Zafar Iqbal, police are now re-evaluating the security measures provided to the eminent personalities who previously received death threats, said several high officials of police seeking anonymity.
Police headquarters’ Assistant Inspector General (media) Sahely Ferdous told the Dhaka Tribune: “We took security measures for the eminent personalities who have got threat at different times earlier. We are now observing the entire situation keenly.”
A police official, on condition of anonymity, said: “There are a few of policemen deployed [to ensure protection for the personalities] due to less manpower in the force.”
He added that Zafar Iqbal receives less security now compared to when he first received the death threats in 2016.
Two years back, the intelligence report said 60 eminent personalities received death threats on May 20, June 2, June 16 and August 13 in 2015. Moreover, they received such threats individually over phone and in letters.
It also recommended that the local police stations keep the list of people who were mentioned in ABT’s letter, adding that individuals, organizations, and political parties who sponsor the militants should also be held accountable.
One of the targets, former minister Suranjit Sengupta, passed away on February 5, 2017 after suffering from cancer. A few bloggers who were also targets – Humayun Azad’s son Anonno Azad and Nirjhar Majumder – are living abroad now.
Blogger Nirjahar Mazumder, who went abroad after getting a death threat few years ago, told the Dhaka Tribune: “I felt insecure after getting the threat, and as I had an opportunity to study abroad, I left the country.”
Nirjhar also said more than 60 bloggers left the country after the blogger killings that happened in the last few years.
ABT has claimed responsibility for the murders of several secular activists since 2013. The victims are Ahmed Rajeeb Haider, Ashraful Alam, Rajshahi University teacher Prof AKM Shafiul Islam, Avijit Roy, Oyasiqur Rahman Babu, Ananta Bijoy Das and Niladri Chatterjee aka Niloy Neel.