David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
An early morning raid by Rapid Action Battalion on 8 March 2015 on the Gulshan headquarters of the First Security Islami Bank further suggests that law enforcement authorities were involved in picking up opposition leader Salah Uddin Ahmed two days later, New Age can reveal.
Investigation by the paper has found that the bank provides a crucial link between a sequence of raids and arrests by RAB that finally resulted in the BNP politician being picked up, just over 48 hours later on 10 March, from a flat in Uttara where one of the bank’s deputy managing directors lived.
RAB raided the First Security Islami Bank’s headquarters on Sunday, 8 March due to Salah Uddin’s ownership of the building. The battalion had received information, which turned out to be inaccurate, that the BNP politician was hiding in a sixth floor boardroom of the bank.
However, on the same morning as the search in the bank, RAB also raided a flat on road 136 which was owned by a board director of the same bank – a man who was also the brother of the financial institution’s chairman.
The flat was raided as the battalion had also received information that Salah Uddin was living there – correct, but out of date as a few days earlier the BNP politician had moved to the Uttara flat of one of the bank’s deputy managing directors.
During the raid on the bank director’s flat, RAB detained his 70-year-old cook, subsequently alleging that he had ‘harboured’ the BNP leader. The cook remains in jail having been denied bail on at least two occasions.
The raids on both the bank and its director’s flat are likely to have resulted from information obtained after picking up three of Salah Uddin’s employees from their homes, which also took place that very same morning, about which New Age has previously reported.
Two of the men were Salah Uddin’s drivers, who knew the politician and his wife’s movements, and the third man was his personal assistant one of whose responsibilities was maintenance of the First Security Islami Bank’s headquarters. The three are currently in jail.
BNP insiders believe that RAB were finally able to locate Salah Uddin in Uttara after forcing the two brother-directors and the deputy managing of the First Security Islami Bank to disclose the BNP leader’s whereabouts.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader, who had been appointed spokesperson of the party six weeks earlier, has not been seen for nearly two months since he was taken away from a house in Uttara on the night of 10 March 2015.
At the time he went missing, the caretaker of the building told journalists that ‘detective branch’ officers had taken Salah Uddin blindfolded from the first floor flat and put him into a vehicle waiting outside.
Local guards and security officers also confirmed RAB vehicles were seen that night in the vicinity of the building, and that its officers had sought the location of the house where Salah Uddin was residing.
RAB and the detective branch have consistently denied any involvement in the alleged pick-up of Salah Uddin, pointing to a general diary entry written by the officer-in-charge of Uttara West police station that stated that the Uttara building caretaker had told the officer that law enforcement officials were not involved – a finding that conflicted with what newspapers had reported the caretaker as saying.
RAB-1 commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Tuhin Mohammad Masud told New Age that he could not remember whether the battalion had undertaken any raid on the Gulshan headquarters of First Security Islami Bank on 8 March. The director of RAB’s legal and media wing, Commander Mufti Mahmud Khan also said he did not know whether any raid had been conducted then. ‘March 8 is a long time ago to remember what happened,’ he said. ‘You should ask the bank.’
Previously, RAB had confirmed to New Age that it had been searching for Salah Uddin before 10 March 2015. For First Security Islami Bank, it all started at around 2:30am on the 8th March, when witnesses told New Age they saw three RAB vehicles and a microbus stop on the road outside its headquarters on road 8 of Gulshan-1, and about 10 people enter the bank’s premises.
The bank’s chairman is Md Saiful Alam, who is also the chairman of S Alam Group, one of the country’s major conglomerates.
‘About half of the men were in the black RAB uniform, with black bands around their heads and the other half were in plain clothes,’ said one person, who spoke to New Age on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
‘There was one woman amongst them in RAB uniform. The leader seemed to be one of the men who was in plain clothes,’ the person added.
The building where Saiful Alam’s bank is located is owned by BNP’s joint general secretary Salah Uddin. RAB knew this and had been informed that the BNP leader might be hiding in the bank’s board room on the sixth floor.
A duty officer was brought to the bank to open the board room, but no one was inside. ‘I heard that they searched the room, but there was no one there,’ an employee told New Age also on condition of anonymity. A jacket belonging to a director of the bank was hanging on a chair and nothing else.
The RAB officers left at about 7:00am, but a few hours later a RAB officer came back to the bank and was seen taking away the bank’s digital video recorder and CPU linked to the bank’s CCTV camera.
The surveillance equipment was returned to the bank some days later. It is not clear whether RAB took the CCTV equipment to check whether Salah Uddin was hiding in the bank’s premises or to delete evidence that the law enforcement officials had been present in the bank earlier that morning.
First Security Islami Bank has refused to talk to New Age about the raid. Its head of marketing, development and public relations, Azam Khan declined to make any comment when asked about it.
At around the same time that RAB raided the bank, its officers also went to another location, a flat on road 136 Gulshan-1, a few minutes walk across the main Gulshan Avenue.
As New Age previously reported, when RAB arrived at the building, the officials specifically wanted to see a particular first floor flat in the building.
The paper has now been able to confirm that this flat is owned by Shahidul Islam, a director of First Security Islami Bank and also the brother of the bank’s chairman, S Alam.
Guards confirmed that Salah Uddin had lived in that flat since 5 January, the day the BNP’s chairperson Khaleda Zia announced the beginning of the nationwide siege, and that he had only left it a few days before the RAB raid.
According to those who knew the BNP leader, Salah Uddin was on friendly terms with both Shahidul Islam and his brother, the chairman of the bank, all three of whom are originally from Chittagong.
From this flat, RAB arrested the cook, Rahim, who was subsequently accused of ‘harbouring’ the BNP leader. As part of the cook’s unsuccessful application for bail, a certificate was given by the bank claiming that Rahim was its employee.
At the time RAB raided the bank and the flat on road 136, Salah Uddin was living in a flat in Uttara which was also connected to the First Security Islami Bank, and from which it is alleged that he was picked up by law enforcement agencies on 10 March.
The flat located on road 13B, in Sector 3 in Uttara is rented by Habib Hasnat, one of the three joint deputy managing directors of the bank.
Habib Hasnat, also from Chittagong, is a friend of Salah Uddin’s family.
A year earlier, Habib had allowed his old friend to stay at his in-law’s house located in sector 5 of Uttara, during the pre-January 2014 election period.
Habib Hasnat left the country on 11 March, the day after Salah Uddin was taken away from his flat. According to Salah Uddin’s wife, Hasnat called her from Dubai airport on the same afternoon and told her that her husband had been taken away by law enforcement authorities.
Bank sources say that Hasnat’s first floor office in First Security Islami bank’s headquarters is now locked.
The deputy managing director, now believed to be in New York in the USA, did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him over the phone.
New Age has attempted to contact both First Security Islami Bank’s director Shahidul Islam and his brother, and chairman of the bank, S Alam, but without success.
Source: New Age