People in Narayanganj are worried about their safety as many terrorists and criminals have been issued firearms licences in the district, say civil society members.
According to the latest official data, as many as 1,001 firearms licences have been issued in the district till 30 July this year.
The firearms include 592 guns and shot guns, 292 pistols, 95 revolvers and 64 rifles.
A total of 32 firearms licences have been cancelled at different times.
That brings the question—why were so many firearms licences issued although there are all the law enforcing agencies working in the district?
Narayanganj superintendent of police Mohammad Harun-Ur-Rashid said the number of firearms licenses should have been limited in the district.
People who should not have got a licence have been issued one, which is lamentable, he said.
Earlier, factories, banks and businessmen in the district took licences for their personal and organisational security. This trend continued during the 1980s. Later, government officials, politicians and their relatives started taking licences. At one stage identified terrorists under the shelter of political parties got firearms licences, and they used them in the attacks on rival groups.
Analyzing the firearms licences issued in Narayanganj since the 1960s, it was found that they were mostly given to the security people of the banks and the factories.
As many as 20 licences were issued between 1965 and 1970 when it was a sub-district. Those licences were issued to different factories, including Adamjee Jute Mills, and banks. This trend continued during the Bangabandhu-led governments and the Ziaur Rahman government. As many as 24 and 81 firearms licenses were issued during these two periods respectively.
Politicians and their relatives started taking firearms licences at the end of the 1980s. The trend increased during the tenures of the following governments. Terrorists or their patrons started getting licenses in the 1990s. After 2010, the trend got further momentum.
During the autocratic rule of Ershad, the authorities started issuing licences for pistols, revolvers and point bore rifles, a trend that still continues.
As many as 206 firearms licences were issued during the nine years of Ershad government. Of them, 21 were rifles, 50 revolvers and the rest guns.
Besides different organisations, individuals, including businessmen, members of the public administration and security officials got firearms licences between 1972 and 1990.
Some politicians in Narayanganj got licences at the end of the Ershad government. Two of them were from Jatiya party, four from Awami League, and one each from BNP and JSD.
After the fall of Ershad, BNP came to power. During their rule, a total of 89 people got firearms licences. The licence holders, however, were not affiliated with any political parties.
However, Selim Osman (now JaPa MP) took licence at that time. When BNP came to power again in 2001, party MP Giasuddin got licences of a pistol and a gun.
When Awami League was voted to power in 1996, the number of firearms licenses issued got doubled. During their tenure, a total of 238 licenses were issued. At that time, Narayanganj was widely known as the ‘region of terror’.
Rafiur Rabbi, convener of Santrash Nirmul Taki Mancha, an anti-terrorism platform, said political criminalisation spread in the district during the 1990s.
The situation turned devastating in 1996. At the end of the BNP government’s tenure, cadres of Awami League and BNP engaged in gunfights. At that time, a memorandum was given to the prime minister through the deputy commissioner demanding an ‘arms and violence free Narayanganj’. But that was far from reality, he added.
He said the situation deteriorated further when AL came to power.
Osman family and their aides
During the tenure of the Awami League government, MP Shamim Osman and his two brothers took firearms licences. Shamim and Selim Osman took licences for pistols while Nasim took licences for gun. Nasim Osman died in 2014. It could not be known who now possesses the firearm. There are allegations of terrorism and extortion against his son Ajmiri Osman. He is the prime suspect in the much talked about Taki murder case.
Firearms licences were issued to the relatives and cadres of Osman family. Shamim Osman’s maternal father-in-law Jalal Uddin Ahamad has licences of two shotguns and a pistol. Jamal Uddin is a close intimate of Noor Hossain who is the main accused in the Narayanganj seven-murder case. Shamim Osman’s relative Foyez Uddin Ahmed also possesses two arms. He is the uncle of Tayef Uddin, an accused in Taki murder.
People accused of murder, terrorism and extortion, but had links with Osman family did get licences.
They are: AL leader Shah Nizam, double murder accused and top terrorist Niazul Islam, accused of a robber case Abdul Karim alias Dish Babu, accused in 25 cases Matiur Rahman alias Sundor Mati, Ibrahim Chengis, Shahidullah, Ruhul Amin and Rafiqul Islam alias unda Rafiq.
Among the people who got the licenses, 48 are from Awami League, 21 from BNP and 11 from Jatiya Party. Of them, most of the licence holders from AL and JaPa are aides of Osman family.
Illegal use of licenced weapons
Locals said people known for their notoriety use licenced weapons, much to the dismay of the public.. Legal weapons are also used for attacking rivals over trifling matters.
Lawmaker Shamim Osman’s men attacked Narayanganj mayor Selina Hayat Ivy over eviction of hawkers from the footpath on 16 January last year. Shamim’s cadres Niyajul Islam and Shah Nizam were seen brandishing pistols in broad daylight at that time.
Shah Nizam had chased Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal men with his licensed weapon earlier on 5 January, 2015. Many media outlets published that image.
Around six-seven months ago, Abdul Karim alias Dish Babu fired five bullets to create panic over an altercation about maintaining queue at a bank. Jubo League activist Suman Ahmed was shot dead in Rupganj upazila of the district in an infighting of Awami League on 8 February last year. According to the case filed in this connection, bullet was fired from licensed pistol of Kayetpara union parishad chairman Rafiqul Islam. The chairman, however, has been claiming the allegation to be false.
Superintendent of police Mohammad Harun-Ur-Rashid told Prothom Alo that legal action would be taken if anybody uses a licenced weapon for illegal causes. The authorities have already been requested to revoke licenses of a number of people who used licenced weapons for illegal causes.
Criminals, too, get licences
Awami League-led Grand Alliance came to power in 2009. The party is in power for the third consecutive term. As many as 282 licences were issued in their first two terms while 16 more have been issued as of July this year. Nur Hossain, the main accused of the much talked about Narayanganj seven-murder case, and his eight accomplices got licenses of 11 firearms, including seven shotguns, two pistols, one rifle and a revolver. Nur Hossain availed licenses of a rifle and a pistol.
Manoj Kanti Baral, the then deputy commissioner (DC) of Narayanganj and now a joint secretary of shipping ministry, told Prothom Alo that Nur Hossain was not a criminal when he was issued those licenses. He said that application of any license is forwarded to the home minister if the police approves it. The license is only issued upon the home ministry’s approval and the DC can do nothing about it, he claimed.
However, Nur Hossain was already indicted in 22 cases, including murder at the time he got the licence. Nur Hossain and his gang used to create terror using those weapons. They also used to participate in political programmes carrying those licenced weapons. Those licences were revoked following criticism after the sensational seven-murder was unearthed in 2014.
Rafiur Rabbi said, “We were vocal about Nur Hossain’s involvement with murder and terror acts four-five years before the seven-murder. But the administration didn’t pay any heed. If they had taken our pleas into account, a terrorist like Nur Hossain would not have got the licence in the first place. Many criminal activities before or after the seven-murder could have been averted.”
How a license is issued
DC office sources said, as per the law, the DC or the district magistrate issues licences for guns, shotguns, and .22 bore rifles. Home ministry approves licences of pistols and revolvers upon the recommendation of the DC. But, the DC’s recommendation is the most important for issuance of a licence. Before that, the applicant needs to get a police clearance.
Narayanganj’s immediate past DC (currently a joint secretary) Rabbi Mia told Prothom Alo, “Only a few licences had been issued during my tenure. There was no lobbying about it. I took all the decision myself. I issued licencses as the district magistrate.”
Concerns of the public
Civil society members in Narayanganj have expressed their concern over people’s safety as terrorists are carrying licenced weapons, let alone illegal ones.
Narayanganj Nagarik Committee’s general secretary Abdur Rahman said there are many instances of illegal use of licenced weapons in Narayanganj.
He hoped that the authorities would give much thought before issuing any firearms licences.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo, “We will bring the data on firearms possession online. We can’t say that there were no scrutiny before issuance of the licences since the government did it. Once the information is online, we would be able to understand who possess those firearms.”
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo’s print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Galib Ashraf