BANGLADESH: Altaf denies links with Mufti Hannan

Militant leader tells reporters about his ties to Bangladesh's commerce minister Altaf Hossain Choudhury; government denies the link

The Daily Star
Monday, October 3, 2005

Arrested militant kingpin Mufti Abdul Hannan's claim before media that the then home minister Altaf Hossain Choudhury, now commerce minister, assured him of 'no fear' to live in the country has irked the government.

The former home minister's alleged links to Hannan, operation commander of Bangladesh chapter of the international Islamist militant organisation Harkatul Jihad (Huji), was talk of the town as well as an issue of daylong chat at government offices yesterday.

Sources said the home ministry yesterday enquired whether the militant leader at all made such a claim to newsmen on Saturday and what he exactly said.

Altaf however denied knowing Hannan or advising him to submit a mercy petition to get his name erased from the case of attempt to assassinate Sheikh Hasina, the then prime minister and President of the main opposition Awami League.

The commerce minister's office yesterday tried to contact monthly Madina Editor and Islami Oikya Jote leader Moulana Muhiuddin, who, according to Hannan, played mediator between the Huji leader and Altaf.

"Muhiuddin's office assured the commerce ministry officials that Muhiuddin will arrange a press conference to protest Hannan's version," said a commerce ministry source.

Muhiuddin later told a press conference that he had never lobbied with Altaf for Hannan.

Altaf's office also tried to verify whether Hannan at all linked Altaf to him and, if he did, what exactly he had told journalists.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Home Lutfozzaman Babar yesterday discussed with Rab officials Hannan's reported conversation with newsmen at Rab-1 office on Saturday, said sources.

High officials of Rab met Babar at his office and updated him on the latest developments including what Hannan said during primary interrogation.

Besides, Rab high-ups asked officials present during Hannan's conversation with journalists if he really said anything involving the former home minister.

The Huji leader told newsmen he had contacted Altaf (the then home minister) through the editor of monthly Madina to get his name erased from the Hasina murder attempt case.

"The minister advised me to submit a mercy petition and asked me not to move openly until situation normalises," Hannan said. "Although I submitted a mercy petition, the home minister (Altaf) was made commerce minister before he could do anything for mercy to me," Hannan said, adding that he did not flee the country on the minister's assurance.

Altaf's denial

A message faxed to The Daily Star office yesterday afternoon from the commerce ministry said Altaf Hossain yesterday protested reports on Mufti Abdul Hannan that involved him.

Signed by public relations officer Ali Hossain, the rejoinder said: "The minister mentioned that he never met Mufti Hannan, he does not know him. So, there is no possibility of suggesting him (Hannan) to submit mercy petition."

The Press Information Department also sent a letter to The Daily Star office last night for publishing the rejoinder with due importance.

Hunt for Altaf's nephew

Law enforcers have started a massive hunt for Shakil, who has reportedly been possessing deadly arms and also used to supply money to Mufti Hannan.

Shakil, who used to identify himself as Altaf's nephew, possesses a cache of grenades and deadly arms, Rab sources claimed.

Shakil and Hannan's younger brother Anis are jointly running readymade garments business at Basundhara super market at Panthapath in the capital. Besides, he was involved with a Manikganj-based NGO, and used to supply money to the militants, sources said.

Shakil went into hiding after Hannan's arrest.

"I never lobbied for Hannan"

Madina editor Moulana Muhiuddin Khan, also senior vice-chairman of Amini faction of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), denied having relation with Mufti Hannan. But he admitted they had earlier met more than once.

"He is a good man and a good alem," Muhiddin said at a press conference held to protest against Hannan's claim that he (Muhiuddin) mediated between Altaf and him.

Admitting that the former home minister is a friend of him, the IOJ leader said, "I never went to Altaf Hossain with him."

"My image has been severely tarnished by publishing motivated and false news in the newspapers in this regard," he said, terming publication of such news items 'information terrorism'.

"Mufti Hannan did not say anything about me. A vested quarter is propagating these to disgrace the alem community," he alleged.

When reporters told him Hannan's statement was recorded at Rab office, he said, "If he had said it, he lied."

On whether Hannan made the statement on apprehension, he said Mufti Hannan is not of that nature to saying anything inconsistent on apprehension. "I know him, he is a courageous man. He is an alem passed from India's Deoband Madrasa. He had fought Russian troops in Afghanistan."

Muhiuddin admitted Hannan and four to five others had met him at his office on return from Afghanistan.

"Last time I met Hannan in front of Baitul Mokarram Mosque three years ago. We talked standing on the street and we did not have any further contact."

He met Altaf many times and lobbied for cases of his party men and alem-ulema after he was made home minister, he admitted.

Moulana Muhiuddin also admitted he had met Abdur Rahman, chief of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which is blamed for the August 17 countrywide blasts, in Medina but never in the country.

IOJ Chairman Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini, who was also present at the press conference, said Hannan had lied if he disclosed Muhiuddin's name.