Sacked major Syed Ziaul Haq was present at the spot when writer and blogger Avijit Roy was attacked and killed in February 2015, his accomplice has told the court.
Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) member Md Abu Siddiq Sohel, alias Sakib alias Sajid alias Shahab, was arrested on Sunday night in the Mohammadpur area, Dhaka.
In his appearance before the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court on Monday, the 34-year-old gave a detailed account of the premeditated slaying of Avijit on the campus of Dhaka University on February 26, 2015.
Sohel said Zia - an ABT commander who was addressed as “Boro Bhai” (big brother) by other members of the militant organisation - supervised the whole operation to kill Avijit, a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin who had received multiple death threats from Islamists over his writings on science and religion.
Of the nine militants who took part in the attack, four were tasked with killing Avijit while the rest were instructed to follow him.
Along with Zia, another mid-ranking leader of ABT named as Shariful Islam, alias Mukul Rana, oversaw the 42-year-old writer’s killing on the spot. Rana was killed in an alleged gunfight with police at Khilgaon last year.
“Zia was on the spot when Avijit was murdered (and) supervised the whole operation,” Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Mohibul Islam Khan said, citing Sohel’s confessional statement and information gleaned during his interrogation.
CTTC officials said Sohel, hailing from Lalmonirhat’s Aditmari, completed his BBA from Dhaka’s Titumir College and later tried to set up his own business. He also took some IT courses.
In 2014, he met Rejaul in Mirpur, where he used to go to learn the Quran. Sohel joined ABT through Rejaul and became close to Zia. They first met at a training centre and later stayed together at various hideouts.
Sohel left home in the name of “hijrat” and started staying at the militant group’s hideouts. A CTTC official said Sohel was attached to the organisation’s IT and intel wing as he was an IT expert. He followed Avijit’s blog and collected pictures to report to senior ABT leaders, particularly Zia.
The CTTC officer said: “Sohel had gone to the book fair at least four days before the killing and followed Avijit at Zia’s order.”
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10 people took part in murder
Sohel told the law enforcers and the court that 10 people, including Zia, had taken part in Avijit’s murder. Four of them, who were tasked with attacking Avijit directly, were staying outside the book fair premises.
Sohel followed Avijit inside the book fair grounds with three others while Zia and Rana were waiting near the TSC.
The first group attacked Avijit and his wife Rafida Ahmed Bonya on the footpath, north of TSC. Avijit’s wife survived the attack.
The second group, led by Sohel, was looking out for law enforcement officials during the attack, which lasted several minutes. The attackers fled swiftly afterwards and went into hiding at Zia’s order.
The attackers were given instructions by the organisation to keep quiet after the killing of Najimuddin Samad in Old Dhaka in April last year. That is why they did not take part in any other killing in the last one and a half years, Sohel said.
Sohel took part in two other killings
CTTC officials said Sohel had told them that he took part in two other killings at the orders of “Boro Bhai” Zia. One of them was that of Jagriti Publication’s Foysal Arefin Dipon, who was murdered at his office at Shahbagh’s Aziz supermarket. The other was that of blogger Niladri Niloy.
Sohel’s task was to collect detailed information about the targets. He was also tasked with being present at the sites and to follow the law enforcement officials from there.
A CTTC official said the court had ordered the imprisonment of Sohel in the Avijit murder case. He will be arrested in Dipon and Niladri murder cases and interrogated later.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune