Locals in Gopalganj say top militant leader Mufti Abdul Hannan Munshi was radicalised while studying in India and Pakistan, and joined the Bangladesh chapter of militant group HujiB on his return from the Afghan war in the early 1990s.
He created terror across the country by launching over a dozen grenade attacks on Awami League rallies in his failed attempts to assassinate party chief Sheikh Hasina and other top leaders. Also targeted were the former UK envoy in Bangladesh, religious institutions and cultural programmes including the Pohela Boishakh celebrations.
In total his attacks killed over 105 people in six years.
Son of late Nur Islam Munshi from Hiron village under Kotalipara upazila, Mufti Hannan studied at Gopalganj’s Gowhardanga Madrasa and Barisal’s Sarshina Alia Madrasa.
After completing a Masters in Islamic Studies from Aligarh University in 1987, he went to India’s Deoband Madrasa in Uttar Pradesh. The following year he took admission in Fikah Shastra of Jamia Yusuf Bin Nuria Madrasa in Karachi, Pakistan.
During his studies in Pakistan, Mufti Hannan took military training from a jihadist camp at Khost - a border area of Pakistan. He then joined the Mujahidin insurgent group fighting the Red Army in the Afgan-Soviet War, but suffered an injury which required treatment from Kuwait Al-Helal Hospital in Peshawar for 10 months. Later, he completed his studies at the Karachi madrasa.
He returned to Bangladesh in 1993 and the following year joined Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami Bangladesh (HujiB). The militant group was formed by Afghan war veterans in 1992 and aims to establish Shariah law in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Initially, Mufti Hannan became the publicity secretary of the Kotalipara unit of HujiB but he soon rose to a position in the high command due to his organisational skills. He also ran his outfit Harkat-ul Mujahidin’s activities alongside holding the operational leadership in HujiB.
After the HujiB split into several groups over its methods of armed jihad, Mufti Hannan became chief of a faction and developed a close relationship with the leadership of BNP-Jamaat and other militant groups including the JMB and Rohingya-based outfits active in the Chittagong region.
HujiB was declared banned by the BNP-Jamaat government on October 17, 2005 after the group took credit for over a dozen attacks since 1999. Only two weeks later, Mufti Hannan was arrested along with his wife and children from a house in Dhaka.
Mufti Hannan has at least 17 cases filed against him for masterminding the attacks. Of these, he has been sentenced to death for killing three people and injuring then UK envoy Anwar Choudhury and over 70 others at Shahjalal shrine in 2004.
After his death sentence was cleared by the apex court, he sought presidential clemency admitting his guilt. But it was rejected on April 8.
Mufti Hannan’s appeal against another death sentence handed down in the Ramna Batamul blast case is currently pending with the High Court. The hearing began in January this year.
Another trial is underway in the high profile failed August 21 grenade attack on opposition leader Sheikh Hasina in 2004.
He was given life-term imprisonment in 2003 in yet another case, filed for plotting to kill Hasina when she was the prime minister, at Kotalipara in 2000.
An outrageous extremist
Despite his detention and trials, Mufti Hannan continued to forge a fearsome reputation for himself, once threatening a prosecution witness during a hearing on CPB rally blast case at a Dhaka court on June 25, 2015.
“I should have bombed you. Do you know me? Just go outside the court. I will see you,” he is reported to have said.
After the submission of deposition by prosecution witness Shakhawat Hossain, Hannan from the dock shouted: “Bombs ought to be hurled on you.”
After his arrest, the militant kingpin confessed that he had been working upon orders and with the assistance of BNP-Jamaat high command.
Mufti Hannan was also inherently against the country’s independence, said locals.
“We had seen the national flag of Pakistan in Munshi Bari even after the Liberation War. His father Nur Islam Munshi stood against the independence of Bangladesh,” said a sexagenarian of Hiron village, seeking anonymity.
Another middle-aged person of Hiron village said: “Hannan was a pious man till his boyhood. But we started to see changes in his behaviour after he returned from abroad.”
Hannan’s mother, Rabeya Begum, continues to maintain his innocence.
“My son is criminal in eyes of the government but he is innocent in my eyes,” she said. “He never committed any misdeed to my knowledge while the nation is saying that he committed many misdeeds.”
She also urged the government and the locals not to harass her about her son.
Locals say Mufti Hannan never visited his village home after 2000.
In a recent visit to his house, the Gopalganj district correspondent found it vacant. Hannan’s mother, wife and two daughters live in the house.
Hannan has two sons and two daughters. His elder son is studying at a madrasa in Jessore while the younger at a Dhaka school. His daughters are studying at a women’s madrasa in Gopalganj.
His wife, Runa Begum, did not want to make any comment about her husband. She met the death-row convict on Wednesday morning and denied his involvement in any militant activities.
Kotalipara’s Hiron Union Parishad Chairman Ebadul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune that Mufti Hannan had defamed the entire Gopalganj. “Through his execution, the country will be freed from disgrace.”
Local Awami League leaders have vowed to thwart the burial of the militant in Kotalipara