Bangladesh’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has dismissed accusations by a senior government minister that one of its leaders had engineered the killing of an Italian aid worker in Dhaka last month as part of a conspiracy to destabilize the government.
Two days after police announced they had arrested four people, including three allegedly involved in the September 28 killing of Cesare Tavella, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said that police had “conclusive evidence” that middle-level BNP leader M.A. Quayum was involved in the crime and conspiracies.
“He is one of the masterminds behind the conspiracies. There are also some other people behind him. We need some days more to reveal the entire plot. The contract killers were hired to carry out the killing,”Kamal said in a news conference in Dhaka Wednesday.
Those who orchestrated the killing of Tavella are living outside Bangladesh or fled the country in the past weeks, the minister said.
But the leaders of the BNP said that none from their party had been involved with the killing and charged that the government and the ruling Awami League (AL) party were making false charges to ramp up pressure on the opposition.
“In false cases many of our party leaders are already in jail. In a conspiracy, the government is planning to slap fictitious criminal cases against our senior leaders to trap them in jail,” Hannan Shah, a national standing committee member of BNP, told VOA.
“These false cases look like the part of a blueprint to debar us from political activities and cripple our future political movements.”
Killings to trigger anarchy?
In an identical gun attack five days after Tavella's shooting in Dhaka, unidentified assailants killed Japanese farming expert Kunio Hoshi on October 3 near his farm in Rangpur, 330 kilometers from Dhaka.
The Islamic State group (IS) quickly claimed responsibility for the two killings. Bangladesh officials, however, rejected the claims, saying the group did not have a foothold in Bangladesh. They instead blamed local Islamist militants for the two crimes.
Police on Monday said that three of the four men arrested in the Tavella case had admitted they had shot him dead on the order of a “big brother” to send out a message that Bangladesh was no longer safe for foreigners.
Police also said the men were promised a sum of at least $9,000 and were told to kill the Italian national by the "big brother" who asked to focus on killing a white-skinned foreigner to “trigger anarchy” in the country.
Then, on Wednesday, the home minister said the ‘big brother’ was Quayum, a former Dhaka councilor now living in Malaysia.
This week, several local newspapers, quoting police sources, reported that Habib-un-Nabi Khan Sohel, another BNP leader, had fled to India after carrying out the killing of the Japanese national, using contract killers.
The minister said that Quayum, Sohel and other opposition leaders who are among the suspects in the killings will face trial in Bangladesh soon.
“Our Foreign Ministry will swing into action and we will use Interpol and other connections to bring them back to Bangladesh,” minister Kamal said.
Mahbubul Alam Hanif, joint secretary - general of the AL, said the BNP and its allies had been indulging in several subversive activities for some years since they are opposed to the war crime tribunal that was set up to try those involved in the 1971 war. The killings of the two foreigners were part of those subversive activities, he said.
“Around the beginning of this year for almost three months, Khaleda Zia's men indulged in country-wide anarchy, launching petrol bomb attacks and killing many people. They launched these terrorist activities to trouble and destabilize the government,” Hanif said to VOA. “After they failed in those attempts, in a new strategy, to create more pressure on the government, they have started killing the foreigners."
Allegation of unfair investigation
A week after the killing of the Japanese national, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina blamed BNP chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia for the killings.
Nazrul Islam Khan, another national standing committee member of BNP said that his party condemned the killings of the foreigners and demanded punishments of the culprits following proper investigations.
“Following the killings, even before the investigation began, the prime minister announced that the BNP had orchestrated the crimes. In this situation, it becomes almost like a responsibility for the government machineries to establish what she said is indeed correct. How can we expect a fair investigation in the cases now?” Khan said to VOA.
If the government is firmly set on a mission only to malign BNP, actual investigations will not take place in the cases and the real culprits will never be booked, Khan said.
“Police, as employees of the state, should not support any political party. They should investigate the crimes in an unbiased and professional way. But that's not happening,” he said.
A bitter rivalry apparently stemming from a power struggle between the Hasina-led AL and Khaleda Zia’s BNP might have cast its shadow on the events trailing the killings of the two foreigners, said Ali Riaz, a Bangladeshi American Professor of politics and government at Illinois State University.
“In no way, any part, whether it's the opposition or a party in power, it should not consider national security as a matter of political rivalry. Crimes have been committed, people have been killed. Now, these criminals need to be apprehended and their political identity should not be a matter of consideration here,” Riaz said to VOA.
“Even if someone is involved in a political party, that does not make them immune to punishment, they should not be enjoying any kind of impunity. At the same time it should be ensured that nobody is being victimized because of his political affiliation.”
The killings of the foreigners and other ongoing related criminal activities could also be the handiwork of some fringe groups who have no connection with any major political party or international terrorist organization and have grown taking advantage of the extremely polarized political environment and deteriorating law and order situation in Bangladesh, he said.
“The political parties start pointing fingers at each other and the law enforcing agencies will be in complete state of confusion about what they need to do. All these things create an environment within which these kind of groups whether they are driven by any religious ideology or they are driven by their criminal motivation. What happens at the end of the day is that they take advantage of the situation because they can take advantage of it," Riaz said.