• Wednesday, Jul 17, 2019
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Biman flight hijack drama at Chittagong airport ends with gunman shot dead

  • Published at 06:33 pm February 24th, 2019
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The Biman Bangladesh Airlines aircraft, which was hijacked by a lone gunman midair, is seen on the tarmac at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong on Sunday, February 24, 2019 Dhaka Tribune

Commandos exchanged fire with the suspect after he declined to surrender

An armed suspect who hijacked a Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight has been killed in an exchange of fire with security forces during a raid at the Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong.

Bangladesh Army and Bangladesh Air Force officials confirmed the development at a press briefing at the airport around 8:45pm on Sunday.

Army’s General Officer Commanding the 24th Infantry Division and Chittagong Area Maj Gen SM Matiur Rahman told reporters that the Bangladeshi man, identified as Mahadi, was in his mid-20s and he was carrying a pistol.

He said the commandos had asked the armed hijacker to surrender during the raid. “But he rejected, and tried to retaliate, which led to the exchange of fire inside the plane.

“The suspect was apprehended with gunshot injuries, but we have learnt that he died later.”

The raid took only eight minutes to successfully neutralize the hijacker, added the army official. It was led by the army’s Lt Col Imrul, who in the morning of July 2, 2016 had also led the para-commando raid to neutralize the militants who killed 24 people at Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka.

Earlier in the afternoon, Biman’s Flight BG-147, which was on its way to Dubai from Dhaka via Chittagong, had made an emergency landing at Shah Amanat International Airport.

An airport official, seeking anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune that the gunman attempted to take command of the cockpit after the plane took off from Dhaka’s Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and forced the pilot to land at the Chittagong airport.

However, it is not clear yet how the man managed to get past the security at Dhaka airport with a firearm.

Operational activities at the Chittagong airport were suspended after the news of hijacking spread. Operations resumed around 8pm after the raid ended.

Maj Gen Matiur said the Air Traffic Control (ATC) had notified the air force about the plane being hijacked at 5:33pm. “The pilot had informed the ATC about the situation before landing at the airport at 5:41pm.”

After the plane landed, air force and other law enforcement agencies, including police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Armed Police Battalion, coordinated and handled the emergency situation management with the airport authorities, he said.

A contingent of Bangladesh Army at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong on February 24, 2019 |Focus BanglaThe army’s team of para-commandos arrived at the scene after they were informed of the situation around 6pm. The raid started at 7:20pm.

Why?

The hijacker had taken a crew member hostage after the Biman aircraft landed in Chittagong and the passengers and pilots were safely evacuated by the security forces.

However, Maj Gen Matiur confirmed that no passengers or crew members were harmed in any way during the hijacking attempt and the following raid.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, had 134 passengers and 14 crew members — all of whom disembarked the plane safely, he added. The plane also did not sustain any damage and is safe for normal operations.

Responding to a question, the army official said the hijacker only demanded to talk to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and his wife during their brief conversation with him. The identity of his wife could not be known though. 

“No further communication with him took place... Because we wanted to put an end to this incident as soon as possible,” he added.

The prime minister was in Chittagong earlier in the day to inaugurate a development project. She, however, returned to Dhaka before the hijacking took place.

“The hijacker did not say why he wanted to talk to the prime minister. He also could not provide any phone number to contact his family members,” said Maj Gen Matiur.

He said that air force’s Air Vice Marshal Mafid, who was also present at the press briefing, had successfully kept the hijacker busy by engaging him in a conversation and managed to buy the commandos from army and navy and RAB 7 personnel enough time to set up for the operation.

Responding to another query, he said that they would definitely investigate how the man managed to board the Dubai-bound plane after getting past several layers of security at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka.

An investigation committee will also be formed, he said, adding that the hijacker’s complete identity, why he hijacked the plane and other relevant information would be unearthed soon through the probe.

“However, our first priority right now is to resume normal operations at this international airport as soon as possible,” he said.The Biman plane made an emergency landing at the Shah Amanat International Airport after the gunman took control of the cockpit | Courtesy

Later in the evening, the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry formed a three-member committee to look into the hijacking, according to a media statement.

Hijacked midair

Maj Gen Matiur also confirmed that the plane was hijacked midair, soon after it took off from the Dhaka airport.

A passenger of the plane, Osman Gani, told reporters that the hijacker threatened to shoot the passengers just 15 minutes after the flight took off.

“He also fired several rounds, leaving the passengers panicked,” he said.

Earlier, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters that the hijacker had the pilot at gunpoint when the plane landed in Chittagong.

“However, all passengers and the pilot made it out safely. We know this so far. But it is confirmed that the suspect is still in the plane. We are trying to find out why and how this happened,” said the minister.

Earlier, Shakil Meraj, the general manager (Public Relations) of the national flag carrier, also told the Dhaka Tribune that all passengers had safely disembarked after the plane landed.

Chittagong 8 MP and leader of a Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction Moin Uddin Khan Badal, who was also on the flight, told Somoy TV that the hijacker had opened fire.

“The pilot told that this man, a Bangladeshi, fired a shot. However, everyone is safe.

“When the pilot pursued him, the hijacker said that he wanted to talk to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Now the law enforcement agencies are trying to take him into custody,” Badal said.

Additional reporting by Sushanto Biswas