Mahtab Khamaru, the second-in-command of hanged JMB chief Bangla Bhai, was arrested in 2005 but subsequently released since then prime minister Khaleda Zia’s elder son Tarique Rahman had asked the home state minister to do so, says a US embassy cable leaked by WikiLeaks.
He was one of several hundred JMB members to face arrest after the unprecedented series bomb blasts of August 17, 2005 that rocked the country. The attacks were perpetrated by the members of JMB and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB).
These groups aimed at establishing Islamic rule were banned on February 23 the same year.
“The Rapid Action Battalion [on November 27, 2005] arrested Kamarul [Khamaru]…But that an agitated home minister of state [Lutfozzaman] Babar complained that he had been forced to release him [Khamaru] quickly after the intervention of Tarique Rahman [now BNP senior vice-chairman]…acting at the behest of State Minister for Land [Ruhul Kuddus Talukder] Dulu,” Kamal Siddiqui, then principal secretary to the prime minister, told a US embassy official in Dhaka on December 14, 2005.
Khamaru, also a regional commander in 2004, was later arrested on March 9, 2007 and July 23, 2012. Both Tarique and Bangla Bhai hail from Gabtoli of Bogra while Dulu was a BNP lawmaker from Natore.
In 2012, Khamaru was shown arrested in a case filed for abduction and torture of one Amir Ali of Bagmara in 2004. “He is currently on bail,” OC of Bagmara police Abu Obaida Khan told the Dhaka Tribune yesterday.
At that time, it was alleged that Khamaru had been released upon a high-level decision of the then BNP-Jamaat government. But the leaked cable confirms the role of Tarique behind the release of the notorious militant who hails from Bagmara of Rajshahi. According to the cable leaked in 2011 among over 2.5 lakh others, Siddiqui referred to Tarique as “wind tunnel” – a translation of the name of his Hawa Bhaban office.
“Wind Tunnel has some psycho friends who he listens to because of his lack of experience,” he told then charge d affairs in Dhaka Judith Chammas. The cable was sent to Washington on December 15.
Siddiqui had earlier complained to the embassy officials many times about Tarique, whom he viewed as “unsophisticated and dangerous.”
However, Siddiqui was loyal to Khaleda and the BNP, says the cable titled “Dissent From A Chief Zia Advisor.” Charged in a number of corruption cases, Siddiqui has been on the run since late 2006.
Tarique’s involvement with the JMB was also substantiated by Babar when Chammas had met him on December 19. At the meeting, then home state minister Babar described the government’s steps to contain the JMB and the JMJB militants, reads another cable.
While saying that they were able to arrest three out of the seven council members of the JMB, Babar expressed frustration over the interference of Tarique.
“Babar confirmed that one of those arrested and released was Kazarul [Khamaru], Bangla Bhai’s reputed deputy. Babar said he was in Singapore when this happened and found out that a young official in-charge in that [Rajshahi] district had done a background check with all the police offices and found no records on Kazarul and therefore released him,” Chammas wrote to Washington.
Babar also admitted that at one time “when Bangla Bhai was allegedly popular in the Rajshahi division for his vigilante action against local criminals, several government ministers supported him.”
When Chammas asked if those ministers were being held accountable, Babar said: “This is a difficult question you are asking me.”
This story was also published in the Dhaka Tribune on October 1, 2014.