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Biman hijacking: More questions than answers

  • Published at 10:47 pm February 25th, 2019
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

At Monday's briefing, the civil aviation secretary said Palash was checked by Ansar members on duty at the screening system, and his backpack also went through the scanner

Authorities have yet to clarify a number of glaring issues regarding the Biman hijacking in Chittagong on Sunday, even 36 hours after the situation was resolved.

State Minister for Civil Aviation, Md Mahbub Ali, and CAAB Chairman, Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan, both on Monday said they were waiting for a probe committee report within five days, headed by Additional Secretary, Md Mokabbir Hossain, to investigate the incident and present recommendations for practicable actions to prevent such untoward situations in the future.

On Sunday evening, Md Palash Ahmed, alias Mahibi Jahan, 23, managed to hijack Biman’s flight BG-147 when it took off from Dhaka. The aircraft landed at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong on its way to Dubai, where the pilot informed the air traffic controller of the situation onboard.

He did not harm any passengers or crew members, but demanded to talk to the prime minister and his wife.

The hijacker was shot dead by a commando team that stormed the aircraft to neutralize the threat after several hours of a tense stand-off at the airport.

Was there a firearm?

Officials at the Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB), said they were yet to figure out how Palash, a listed criminal in Rapid Action Battalion’s (RAB) criminal database, managed to board the Dubai-bound plane with said “gun,” getting past several layers of security at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka.

At the press conference yesterday, top government officials were quite confident that the four layer security system at the airport is so secure that no one can bypass the scanning system and board a plane with a gun.

However, they also failed to provide a direct answer, preferring to wait for the probe report on how Palash managed to circumvent security, or if he actually did so.

Civil Aviation Secretary Mohibul Haque said: “We are still unsure whether it was a real gun or a toy gun. It could be anything. We will know for certain after the probe is complete.”

Also Read- Biman hijacker served jail time for kidnapping

He said the scanner did not raise any alarms and added that the CCTV footage did not capture anything out of the ordinary during Palash’s passage.

Regarding the gunshots onboard, the civil aviation secretary said he could not confirm whether any shots were fired on the aircraft by Palash, and deferred to the probe committee for a concrete response.

“There were sounds of three shots and we have asked passengers and crews about it. But toy guns can also make sounds,” said CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan. 

Chittagong Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mahabubur Rahman however, on Sunday, told journalists that it was a fake gun.

Did he kidnap a girl when he was 16?

On Monday morning, RAB’s Legal and Media Wing Director, Mufti Mahmud Khan, confirmed that a fingerprint search of the suspected hijacker in their criminal database matched with Palash, from Sonargaon, Narayanganj.

The RAB spokesperson said: "He has a prior criminal record from an arrest seven years ago. He was arrested with an accomplice for abducting a teenage girl. They tried to ransom her for Tk8 lakh, but the police rescued the victim and arrested Palash, who served 20 days in jail before being let out on bail.”

Authorities have yet to provide further details about the hijacker’s juvenile crime and any trial that followed.

Was airport security lax?

At a press briefing later in the day at Dhaka airport, State Minister Mahbub Ali said they were still trying to get the full picture.

He said: “We have already formed a probe committee and they are working on it. They will submit their report within five days.

“But we did not find any flaws in airport security (in Dhaka). There is no security error or leaks in the airport security system which could allow any passenger to board a plane with a firearm,” he asserted.

Also Read- Biman flight hijack: Authorities tight-lipped, waiting for probe report

Responding to a question, the state minister said there was no error in coordination among the agencies responsible for the security in Dhaka airport.

He also added that the aircraft was supposed to land in Chittagong on its way to Dubai. “It did not make an emergency landing.”

Was there a bomb?

Rumors spread on Sunday that Palash was wearing an explosive vest. However, CAAB chairman, Air Vice Marshal M Naim Hassan, said everything said by the authorities earlier was hearsay.

RAB Director Mufti Mahmud Khan said Palash was not carrying any explosives.

He said: “He wore a vest that had several circuits attached to it. But there were no explosives. It was a fake.”

However, he did not explain how Palash would have gotten the vest on the aircraft.  All the questions have become only more glaring due to conflicting and evasive responses over the past two days.

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