Militant Zia, Salehin still on the run

No fresh initiative to nab them

Md Esaraf Hossain

20 February, 2019 12:00 AM printer

No fresh initiative is in sight to catch two militant kingpins -- Ansarullah Bangla Team chief Syed Ziaul Haque Zia and Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) founding Shura member Salehin.

Sources said law enforcers are still clueless about the whereabouts of Zia, a charge-sheeted accused in blogger Avijit Roy murder case, and Salehin, one of the convicts in the case over countrywide synchronised bomb blasts in 2005.

On Monday, police finalised a charge sheet against six people, including Zia, a sacked army major, in Avijit murder case after four years of investigation.

Police sources said the law enforcers have virtually ‘given up’ hopes of arrest of the two top militants.

They said they conducted crackdown in the last two years to arrest the duo but their attempts failed.

When contacted, Major Raisul Azam, deputy director (legal and media wing) of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), on Thursday said, “Enhanced surveillance by our intelligence agencies has made it possible to stop frequent attacks by the militants.

RAB personnel are continuing drives to nab the absconding militants though the law enforcers do not have any specific information about the militant leaders, the RAB official said.

According to police sources, sacked army major Zia has been acting as the coordinator of Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT).

Law enforcers have been looking for him for over one and a half years, but to no effect. Not only Zia, other top militant leaders, including Salehin, who are carrying out their organisational activities secretly, are on the run.

Police said names of some top level leaders of JMB surfaced during investigation after the Holey Artisan restaurant attack on July 1, 2016.

Of them, Major Zia, financier Dr Rokonuddin, commander Manik, Mamunur Rashid Ripon and organiser Ibrahim Hasan Khan are still on the run.

According to the police record, at least 70 militant leaders and activists, including Neo-JMB chief Tamim Chowdhury, coordinator Mainul Islam alias Musa, Nurul Islam Marzan and retired major Zahid, were killed in different drives of the law enforcers after the Holey Artisan Bakery attack while over 400 militants were arrested.

Some 22 persons, including two police officers and 17 foreigners, were killed in the gruesome militant attack at the Holey Artisan Cafe on July 1 in 2016.

The home ministry announced a reward of Tk 20 lakh for information leading to the arrest of Major Zia.

The sacked army major is the alleged mastermind behind the killings of bloggers, prominent writers, publishers, university teachers and students.

He formed a sleeper cell and killed five bloggers across the country in 2016 and 2017. He also trained many activists.

Despite massive operations, the law enforcers could not trace him.

Major Zia had been sacked on December 11, 2011 for his failed coup attempt in the army. Then, he went into hiding and came in contact with Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) spiritual leader Shaikh Jashimuddin. After the arrest of Jashimuddin, Zia took over its leadership.

On May 19 last year, Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) also announced a reward of Tk 18 lakh for information leading to the arrests of six other Ansarullah activists who were directly involved in blogger, writer, publisher and university teacher killings. They are still absconding.

The other ABT activists are Shariful Islam alias Saleh, Selim alias Iqbal alias Mamun, Sifat alias Shamir, Abdus Samad alias Rajum Sifat alias Sumon and Sajjad alias Shajib alias Siyum.

Police said they were involved in the brutal killings of bloggers Avijit Roy at Dhaka University, Niladri Niloy at Goran, Ahmed Rashid Tutul at Lalmatia, university student Riyad Morshed Babu at Savar, publisher Faisal Arefin Dipon, blogger Washikur Rahman Babu, Jagannath University student Nazimuddin Samad, US embassy staff Xulhas and Tonoy.         

Salehin is one of three top JMB leaders who were abducted from police custody during an attack on a prison van that led to the death of a police officer at Trishal, Mymensingh on February 26 in 2014.

Bangladesh police announced a Tk 5 lakh reward for information leading to the arrest of Salehin, a founding Shurah member of JMB. His name has also been put on the list of ‘most wanted criminals’ by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Salehin has gone under the name Hafizur Rahman Sheikh alias Mahin several times in India. It is assumed that Salehin along with fellow militant leader Zahidul Islam Mizan alias Boma Mizan opened a new faction of JMB naming it Jama’atul Mujahideen India.

Boma Mizan was arrested on August 6 last year during an NIA raid in Bengaluru over bomb blasts in Bihar’s Bodh Gaya and West Bengal’s Badhaman. However, Indian detectives are yet to find Salehin.