Sheikh Hasina assassination attempt foiled: ISI-backed Bangladesh militants planned Indira-like killing, say security agencies

An attempt on Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s life, inspired by the way Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own bodyguards, was foiled four weeks ago by her loyalists and top counter-terrorism officers in Dhaka.

Intercepts suggested that six to seven personnel of the Special Security Force (SSF), which guards the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, were preparing to attack Hasina on 24 August. Their plan was to attack her as soon as she would step out of her office for an evening stroll.

Four independent sources, including two in Dhaka and two in the external intelligence apparatus of India dealing with Bangladesh, confirmed the development.

A top official in Bangladesh’s National Security Intelligence told News18 that the attack was being coordinated with Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) militants. According to the plan, JMB jihadis were supposed to trigger a series of explosions around Hasina’s office to divert the attention of the other security guards, and to provide an escape route to the assassins.

“The plan was modelled on the assassination of Indira. It was supposed to be an inside job performed by recalcitrant bodyguards with the outside support from jihadis,” another top intelligence official working closely with Bangladesh PMO told News 18.

JMB, an internationally recognized terror group, has taken responsibility for many bomb blasts in Bangladesh and aims to replace democratically-elected government with Islamic State. The plan was foiled after a joint team of Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence officers intercepted the communication between JMB militants and the rogue SSF guards.

Sheikh Hasina assassination attempt foiled: ISI-backed Bangladesh militants planned Indira-like killing, say security agencies

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina at the UNGA on Friday. AP

As soon as the conversation around the conspiracy was intercepted, Hasina was advised to stay put at a location outside her office in Dhaka, where she had gone for a personal meeting.

Following this, her loyal guards formed an inner ring around her. The rogue men were nabbed right after this, paving the way for Hasina to return safely to her office.

“The whole operation was discreet. We wanted to catch every last person involved in this,” a top official in Dhaka said. According to sources, the suspects are still being interrogated by Bangladeshi authorities.

News18’s request for comment from Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka through the Bangladeshi High Commission in Delhi didn’t elicit any response.

A spokesperson of the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi said the issue pertains to Bangladesh and declined to comment further.

This is said to be the eleventh assassination attempt on Hasina since she took charge in January 2009. Indira was assassinated by two members of her security detail on 31 October, 1984 as she walked from her residence to office in New Delhi.

In the attempt on Hasina’s life, Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is suspected to be among the main conspirators of the attack. “It all began when ISI’s Brigadier Ashfaq, in-charge of eastern operations, met a top opposition leader from Bangladesh in London two months ago,” said one of the intelligence officials in Dhaka.

The Bangladeshi intelligence is closely monitoring two major general-level officers of SSF, who also met the same opposition leader in London. According to the sources, these SSF officials made a phone call to a top officer in the ISI’s Operations Directorate, which suggested finalisation of a plan to create large-scale disorder in Bangladesh.

Indian and Bangladeshi intelligence agencies had earlier intercepted communications between ISI’s Brigadier Ashfaq and Hafiz Tohar, chief of the military wing of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group that is sai to be carrying out attacks in the interests of the Rohingya refugees.

In these tapes, Ashfaq is heard asking Tohar to mount multiple attacks on Burmese security forces right after former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan had presented the Rakhine Commission report to Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar president Htin Kyaw on 24 August.

Myanmar news agency Mizzima, in a report, published the content of the two calls from Ashfaq to Tohar and one from Islamic State spokesman Al Amin to Tohar on 23 and 24 August. According to intelligence officers in Dhaka, ISI was working on a pincer plan to create unrest in the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region by assassinating Hasina.

A red alert has been issued across Bangladesh to guard against possible attempts to trigger communal violence, particularly in south-east Bangladesh where thousands of Rohingya refugees are living in temporary camps.

Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC journalist, is contributor at CNN-News18

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Updated Date: Sep 24, 2017 09:06:49 IST

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