August 21 Grenade Attack: Defence begin their closing arguments

A defence counsel yesterday started their closing arguments in the cases filed over August 21 grenade attack on Awami League rally in 2004 in which 24 people were killed and scores were injured.

Chaitanya Chandra Halder, state-appointed defence lawyer for fugitive accused Mohammad Hanif, owner of Hanif Paribahan, placed his arguments citing testimonies of several prosecution witnesses.

Later, Judge Shahed Nuruddin of the Speedy Trial Tribunal-1 in Dhaka adjourned the case proceedings till today when the defence counsel will resume his arguments. The judge also asked other state-appointed defence lawyers to be ready for placing their arguments.

Twenty-four leaders and activists of the AL and its associate bodies were killed and over 300 others suffered splinter injuries in the August 21 attack. Ivy Rahman, the then Mohila AL president and also the wife of late president Zillur Rahman, was among the deceased.

Many of the injured became crippled for life while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the then opposition leader, narrowly escaped the attack with ear injuries.

Of the 49 accused, eight, including three former inspector generals of police, are now on bail, while 18, including BNP senior vice-chairman Tarique Rahman, have been absconding.

Twenty-three accused, including former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar and ex-deputy minister for education Abdus Salam Pintu were produced before the court yesterday. On Monday, the prosecution completed their closing arguments and sought the highest punishment for all the accused.

However, another prosecution lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajal yesterday told the tribunal that they would place more arguments on legal points, citing different verdicts at home and abroad.  The judge said he would allow the prosecution after the defence counsel’s arguments.

In his arguments, Chaitanya said police filed a case with Motijheel Police Station on the following day of the attack, but his client Hanif’s name was not there and even Hanif’s name was not in the first two charge sheets.

Hanif’s name first came up in the confessional statement of Mufti Abdul Hannan, leader of banned militant outfit Harkatul Jihad al Islami (Huji), the lawyer said.

But none of 61 prosecution witnesses, who gave testimonies before Hannan’s statement, told Hanif’s name in their testimonies.

Chaitanya argued that 19 prosecution witnesses gave testimonies before the tribunal, linking Hanif’s involvement with the grenade attack, but none of them mentioned Hanif’s name while giving statements before the investigation officer of the cases.

He added that most of the 19 witnesses, including former home minister Sahara Khatun, said they had learnt about the criminal conspiracy and involvement of Tarique, Babar and Hanif from media reports, but none of them produced those reports before the court.

BACKGROUND

After the grenade attack, a case was filed with Motijheel Police Station on August 22, 2004.

But the Criminal Investigation Department submitted two charge sheets, one for hatching criminal conspiracy and killing and another for supplying and using grenades. The second charge sheet was filed under the Explosive Substances Act.

During the BNP-Jamaat rule until October 2006, the investigators misled the probe to protect real culprits, according to the prosecution.

During the tenure of the last caretaker government, charge sheets in the two cases were filed against 22 people, including Abdus Salam Pintu and 21 Huji men, including Mufti Hannan.

However, the investigators could not identify the mastermind and the sources of the grenades used in the attack and an extended  probe was launched in 2009 in this regard, the prosecution said. A supplementary charge sheet was submitted against 30 accused, including Tarique, Lutfozzaman Babar and former Jamaat-e-Islami secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed, in July 2011.

In March 2012, the tribunal indicted 52 accused, including Tarique, on murder charges, while 41 accused were indicted in the case filed under the Explosive Substances Act.

The 11 accused — including three former IGPs, three ex-CID officials, two former senior police officials, Khaleda’s nephew Duke, and two former army officers ATM Amin and Saiful Islam Joarder — in the murder case were not implicated in the explosive case. The court conducted the two cases simultaneously.

The names of Jamaat leader Mojaheed, Mufti Hannan and another Huji man were dropped from both the cases as they had been executed in different cases.