Astounded Sheikh Hasina after the attack
Astounded Sheikh Hasina after the attackProthom Alo file photo

The nation on Friday marks the 16th anniversary of the 21 August grenade attack on a rally of then opposition Bangladesh Awami League in Dhaka aimed at making the oldest political party in the country, which led the nation to independence, leaderless.

On this day in 2004, a grisly attack was carried out on an anti-terrorism rally of Awami League on Bangabandhu Avenue when the BNP-Jamaat alliance was in power. Then opposition leader and current prime minister Sheikh Hasina was the main target of the attack.

At least 24 leaders and activists, including AL women affairs secretary and late president Zillur Rahman’s wife Ivy Rahman, were killed and 300 others injured. Hasina narrowly escaped the attack but her hearing was badly damaged.

A Dhaka court on 10 October 2018 sentenced 19 people, including the BNP-led government’s state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar to death. Tarique Rahman, eldest son of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, and 18 others were also sentenced to life in prison.

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Every year on the occasion, Awami League and its associate bodies place wreaths at a makeshift altar in front of the party’s central office on Bangabandhu Avenue but this year, the outbreak of highly contagious coronavirus will have an impact on the programmes.

Hasina said it was a moral duty of the government to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators but the BNP-Jamaat alliance government did not take any action and took all possible measures to protect the killers instead. They allowed the attackers to flee abroad and destroyed all important evidences

President Abdul Hamid and prime minister Sheikh Hasina, in separate messages, paid tributes to the victims of the 21 August grenade attack. They prayed for forgiveness of the departed souls and expressed sympathy to those who sustained injuries.

In his message, the president said the attackers intended to make Bangladesh Awami League leaderless, in an effort to stop the democratic process of the country and establish dictatorship and militancy. But the people of Bangladesh didn’t allow that to happen.

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President Hamid noted that mutual respect and sympathy in addition to tolerance essential in making democracy meaningful.

I firmly believe that all political parties will contribute from their respective positions to gear up the democratic progress in the country
President Abdul Hamid

“I firmly believe that all political parties will contribute from their respective positions to gear up the democratic progress in the country,” he hoped.

Prime minister Hasina described 21 August as a scandalous day in the history of Bangladesh. She said the barbaric attack was carried out at the anti-terror rally of Awami League, under the direct patronage of BNP-Jamaat coalition government.

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“The main intention of the attack was to destroy the spirit of independence, sovereignty, democracy and Liberation War; to perpetuate murder, conspiracy, militancy, corruption and misrule by killing me and making Bangladesh leaderless,” she added.

“With the infinite mercy of the Almighty and the blessings of the people, I survived the attack. But some 22 leaders and activists, including the president of Bangladesh Mahila Awami League Begum Ivy Rahman, were killed in the grenade attack. Over 500 leaders, activists, journalists and security personnel were injured,” she said.

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Hasina said it was a moral duty of the government to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators but the BNP-Jamaat alliance government did not take any action and took all possible measures to protect the killers instead. They allowed the attackers to flee abroad and destroyed all important evidences.

Later, a fair and impartial investigation found that many of the BNP-Jamaat alliance were directly involved in the attack. A verdict came 14 years later.

“The verdict has established the rule of law and freed the nation from the stigma,” she said, adding that it has also sealed all means so that no one can show the audacity to commit such crime in future.

“I hope the verdict will be implemented as soon as possible following the legal procedures,” the prime minister said.