The events of May 4 unfolded like a scene out of a mafia novel. A funeral party was set upon by about 15 armed men who went about their assignment with clinical efficiency as the lush hills of Betchhari echoed with the bursts from their semi automatic weapons.
A convoy of eight vehicles with around 200 mourners was on its way to the funeral of the Naniarchar Upazila Parishad chairman Shaktimaan Chakma who had been gunned down the day before. But things were about to get bloodier.
The leader of the ethnic party Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (MN Larma faction) had given shelter to Tapan Jyoti Chakma, the leader of another breakaway faction — the United People’s Democratic Front (UPDF) Ganatantrik.
Also known as Barma, Tapan Jyoti had been a marked man for long. As he prepared to pay his last respects to his protector Shaktimaan, Tapan’s adversaries planned to eliminate him.
Tapan Jyoti Chakma had fallen out with the main UPDF and formed the breakaway faction in late 2017, which along with a number of other issues had become a death warrant on his head. He was to be taken out wherever the UPDF could find him.
By the time Tapan boarded a microbus along with eight or nine other people and started for Naniarchar with four more converted pickups in his convoy, it was almost 9:30am. According to witnesses, he sat in the middle of the first row of seats with one person on either side.
Unbeknownst to Tapan, someone must have called ahead with the details of his car and where he sat. According to witness accounts, the gunmen knew exactly which vehicle to target and where to find the leader.
This first group of vehicles halted at an area called Chobbish Maiyl where they met up with another convoy of one microbus and two buses from Khagrachhari. Together, the eight vehicles started for Naniarchar where tensions were already running high.
The UPDF-backed UP Vice Chairman of Naniarchar, Rana Bikash Chakma, had been canvassing the area threatening that UP chairman Shaktimaan’s mourners would either be fined or killed.
Even that morning one Rocket Chakma of UPDF had called Riplu Chakma of the PCJSS breakaway faction on the mobile. Riplu said he only heard the sound of a magazine being loaded on the other end and understood the warning quite well.
Soon after they left the Chobbish Maiyl area, the mourners found their way blocked by two trucks laden with bamboo. The convoy came to a halt. Witnesses speculate that it might have been the last checkpoint of sorts to make sure that the mission could still go ahead. The trucks cleared after a while and the convoy began moving again.
It was just after 11:45am, soon after the convoy entered an area called Betchhari, a UPDF stronghold. The eight vehicles had just begun their ascent up one of the many hills that the road goes through, when the raiding party swooped in.
Witnesses said there were two groups armed with the automatic weapons including Kalashnikovs and probably also M16s.
The first group popped out of the bushes and opened fire on the first microbus which contained Tapan. The driver was hit and lost control of the rented microbus. The vehicle swerved violently and tumbled on to a side before coming to a stop on the side of the road where the gunmen converged.
One of them shoved the barrel through a window and shot Tapan at close range. People heard two more rounds go off. Then the whole group of gunmen opened fire on the vehicle from all sides. Witnesses said bullets fell like heavy rain.
At one point during the grizzly execution, the black microbus that had been directly behind the white one with Tapan sped past the shooters towards the Bogachhari army camp.
The killing party quickly completed their mission and were gone within minutes, long before law enforcers or the army arrived at the scene.
Although some witnesses said there was a military escort following the convoy, it could not be confirmed officially.
Three people, including Tapan, died on the spot and their bodies were pulled out once law enforcers came to the spot. The injured were taken to Khagrachhari Sadar Hospital and Chittagong Medical College Hospital.
Two more people, including the driver, died of their wounds on the way to the hospital.
A local policeman requesting anonymity said the shooters had used M16 and AK47 assault rifles. Doctors at Khagrachhari Sadar Hospital, who conducted the autopsies said the injuries suggested use of automatic weapons.
The autopsy report prepared by Civil Surgeon of Khagrachhari Dr Shah Alam and RMO Dr Noyonmoy Tripura state that Tapan Jyoti Chakma had two bullet injuries to his head.
President of Mohalchhari unit of JSS (MN Larma) Sujan Chakma had bullet injuries on the back of his head. He also sustained injuries in the chest and shoulder. Tanmoy Chakma, a member of the same unit, was hit in back and had a punctured lung.
Robin Chakma, a member of JSS (MN Larma) Juba Samiti was hit on the forehead, right ear and head. The driver, Sobuj, died of a single bullet injury to the right chest.