The return of the dons

Saad Hammadi reveals how extortion rackets are slowly getting stronger in Dhaka because of the upcoming elections as underworld groups start compiling databases and profiles of their victims, operating in silence and under the police radar


Photo by Shibu Kumar Shill Six months ago, a Mohammadpur based transport owner received a call from the listed criminal Nabir Hossain Nabi. ‘If you are to do business here, you need protection. I will take care of you and the cost is Tk 25,000 from your business every month,’ he said. While the caller offered protection, as all businessmen big and small in Dhaka’s Mohammadpur know, it was a death threat. The transport owner had no option but to accept the deal because the caller is none other than the new don of Mohammadpur.

The businessman, who refuses to be named, had until recently been paying Tk 10,000 every month as extortion money to Tuhin, allegedly a leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the Awami League. ‘No one else will bother you when I give you shelter,’ assured Nabi to the transport owner.

The extortion amount has increased with the changing of the guard but the victims remain hostage of the mafia, no matter which party is in power.

With elections now approaching and large quantities of funds required for the elections, extortion in markets and transport business are gearing up, reveals investigation.

‘The time has come. Many of our leaders are finally returning to the country to take control over respective areas and re-establish the underworld presence within the country,’ says a core member of the mafia ring ruling over the Mohammadpur area.

According to the police and mafia sources, wanted criminals Jishan, Khorshed, Taj, Subrata Bain and a number of others have been returning to the country from their hideouts abroad over the last month. New Age has also learnt that Nabi came to meet a ward commissioner of Mohammadpur six months back on grounds of a new deal prior to elections.

But as the dons of the last decades operate as absentee-landlords, running this extortion rackets from neighbouring countries, a new crop of pretenders to the throne are slowly spreading their influence across Dhaka.

At least three murder attempts were made in the last month alone over extortion negotiations, at the Prince Restaurant in Mirpur and Babar Hotel in Topkhana Road. ‘New mafia dons always feel the compulsion to murder and massacre during their ascent to power, as a way of establishing their leadership roles, while at the same time putting the word on the street that they mean business,’ says a highly placed source in the police department.

Meanwhile, with new leadership, the protection fees are going up as well. The inter-city bus owners are regular hostages of the extortionists. Every month at least Tk 60,000 is extorted from the Metropolitan Bus Service by Pichchi Helal and Nabi, the two top most mafias operating in Mohammadpur. A New Age investigation reveals that on an average, at least Tk 25,000 is extorted from every transport company per month. There are around 150 buses plying on the Motijheel-Mohammadpur route alone being the highest number of buses on a route. Extortions in the transport business in Mohammadpur are carried out by Nabi and Helal’s underlings. The greater Mirpur and Shah Ali Bagh is terrorised by the gangs of Shahdat and Khorsed. The upcoming terror leaders are proving to be more challenging and swift than their superiors who were ferocious and believed in muscle power. Cold blooded murders, disappearances, use of automated explosion devices, organised databases and undercover informers of the mafia have strengthened their activities over the years.

Mohammadpur, Shyamoli, Kalyanpur

The rise of Nabi followed a break up with Imamul Hasan Helal alias Pichchi Helal. During the early 90’s Nabi was one of the core members of the mafia don Pichchi Helal. All of Mohammadpur quaked at the mention of his name. They are said to have fallen out after Nabi killed one of Helal’s finest assassins, Enai, over a petty argument. Since then there are two groups running criminal activities in the same area. Helal was arrested in 1999 and Nabi escaped from the country as soon as the Rapid Action Battalion was unleashed onto the streets. Nabi has at least 19 cases against him, of which four are for murders, six for extortion, one for carrying unlicensed weapons and eight others, but they are allegedly kept out of the police record. It is common knowledge in Mohammadpur that Nabi has strong connections at the Mohammadpur thana. However, both are actively ruling over the area and carrying out mafia operations through their accomplices.

There is information that Nabi is maintaining his network from abroad with support from his local accomplices and even a group of women managing his financial and weapons accounts. Every month the Nabi group raises over Tk 40 lakh in extortion from Mohammadpur alone. The money is raised every month from various construction sites, house builders and some markets in the Mohammadpur and Kalyanpur area.

One of Nabi’s extortion gold-mines is the Mohammadpur’s Krishi Market. The market authorities provide Nabi at least Tk 5 lakh a month, says a close aide. Nabi has illegally occupied large amount of lands and properties in Adabar and Dhaka Housing that he uses for bribing the top police officials, he says. A large amount is sent abroad for safekeeping, transferred through Hundi channels.

Meanwhile Nabi’s financial and arms accounts are maintained by a group of women. ‘Nabi has maintained a number of families like that to keep his position secure,’ says an aide.

Nabi’s killer group members are said to be Manik, Masum, Salahuddin, Liton and Rustom. Kawsar (24) who leads Nabi’s killer squad has at least 28 murder cases out of his 32 cases in the police record. A source informs New Age that every officer-in-charge of Mohammadpur police is granted a 5-katha plot by Nabi on condition that his accomplices and aides are not hassled or arrested.

Kawsar is accused in the killing of a sergeant in Mohammadpur Jahuri Mohallah. Another accomplice of Nabi is Alamgir. The word on the street is that he is the person who shot at RAB sub-inspector Alamgir in a recent extortion case at Tajmahal road opposite Japan Garden City. However, according to RAB personnel, the assailants were Pichchi Manik and Ruhel. The latter was killed in a ‘crossfire’ soon after the incident.

The Nabi group uses a variety of weapons including AK47, Czechoslovakia pistols, shotguns, British carbines and grenades, reveals a member of the group.

When asked about their source of arms, a member said, ‘Of course one of the main sources for these arms and ammunitions are the mysterious disappearance of the five trucks from the Chittagong port. It had huge amount of arms and ammunitions that later spread out among all the leading terror groups. However, Myanmar and India are routes used for the transaction of ammunitions.’

An AK47 in current market prices costs Tk 3.5 lakh to Tk 4.5 lakh while a Czech pistol costs anywhere between Tk 2.5 lakh and Tk 3.5 lakh.

In the last month alone, at least Tk 70 lakh was raised from the Krishi market by the market association on the grounds of ‘market development’. Out of the amount, around Tk 15 lakh was used for the renovation purpose and the remainder allegedly distributed between the mafia leaders of Mohammadpur, Helal and Nabi. Fifty per cent of the amount collected was distributed between the group leaders of the area. Criminals hiding in India move near to the border in groups to communicate with their local counterparts in Bangladesh, say police sources. While a number of locations are used by these criminals, one of them is the residence of Dakat Shahid that is only a kilometre away from the border. They have set up boosters antennas on the terrace to intercept local cellular networks.

The Bonga area of Benapole houses the three storied residence of Dakat Shahid, who is another wanted criminal controlling the mafia operations in Old Dhaka, say sources.

Each and every mafia leader hiding abroad uses multiple SIM cards.

Amidst tightened security, the shop owners in various parts of the city feel insecure and have grown mistrustful of police protection. ‘We know for a fact that policemen are in alliance with the extortionists and thus there will not be any exemplary punishment to these criminals even if they are arrested,’ says a shop owner at Elephant Road.

Over the last three years, at least 15 businessmen were killed by extortion rackets in Mirpur alone. RAB sources add to the fact that, before their inception, the average killings per year were almost eight to nine.

On record, businessmen in Elephant Road deny paying any extortion money from the markets, however, in confidence they talk of the incidents taking place in understanding with the market associations. ‘In most cases nowadays the market associations themselves are involved with the extortions claiming in the form of subscription or other excuses,’ says a member of Greater Elephant Road Market Association.

Imamul Hasan Helal alias Pichchi Helal was arrested by the police as the accused in 12 murder cases and has been in jail since 1999. However, transport company owners in Mohammadpur openly admit that Helal is maintaining his entire network from within the central jail.

It is a very big circle and the members mostly belong only from Mohammadpur area. Only few days back Helal was caught with at least five SIM cards in his possession inside the jail premises, say police sources. However, that did not affect his communication network and he is regularly in touch with his accomplices, it is claimed. Helal is an official director of a well-known bus company. He collects money from this company abundantly depriving other directors and members of the company, say his aides. The rules and the amount in the transport extortion game have changed since the late nineties. Earlier the bus owners would pay subscription of Tk 52 per day for the maintenance of the transport association’s activities and recreation for the members. Of late this amount has risen to Tk 400 per day from every bus, per day, which, sources say finances Helal’s trials.

Wahidul Hasan Dipu alias Computer Dipu is the elder brother of Helal. ‘Dipu is one of the most cold blooded murderers who leaves no evidence,’ claims a RAB source. He is also one of the top extortionists in Elephant Road and another accused in the commissioner Raju murder case. Raju, who was stepping in for the commissioner post in one of the wards in Mohammadpur was actually murdered by Enai. However, Enai fled the spot and in fact boarded a flight shortly after the incident to escape allegations. The suspect of the murder came down to Helal’s brother Dipu. Inquiries reveal the murder of Shamim, an informer of Pichchi Manik was committed by Dipu on November 13 at the Beribadh area and he has been accused in the case. He is also an accused in the murder of Ejaz of Noorjahan Road, allegedly a close aide of Pichchi Helal’s.

According to members of Helal’s group, all construction contracts at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital go directly to Helal although a tender process is used as cover.

Computer Dipu and Helal’s largest shelter is a former BNP minister. Helal is due to be released shortly for the purpose of election. A number of BNP leaders and ward commissioners are helping his release before the election takes place.

Most of Pichchi Helal’s key shooters [Pappu and Jasim] are behind the bars while the untried are Milon, Aslam of Narayanganj and few others.

A large portion of the tenders for the development of different wards in Dhaka goes to Helal, Nabi, Emon, Dipu and other top notch criminals as extortion. Cell phones of most listed criminals were on during the last month, as a tender of the Dhaka City Corporation was scheduled on October 17. The local commissioners of the city corporation are allegedly allotted a certain sum of money every year which is around Tk 66 lakh. Each male commissioner is awarded Tk 50 lakh and female commissioners are granted Tk 16 lakh per ward, it is claimed. Each female commissioner is responsible for three wards. Criminals of respected areas receive 10 per cent of the tender quotation.

Elephant Road, Dhanmondi, Jigatola, Hazaribagh

Emon is a notorious criminal operating in Elephant Road, Dhanmondi, Jigatola and Hazaribagh. While Emon is reportedly residing abroad as well, his righthand-man Darial Sohel is allegedly in charge of carrying out operations in the areas and collecting the extortion money. Sohel is an ex-president of Bangladesh Chhatra Dal, a student wing of Bangladesh Nationalist Party under Mohammadpur Thana. He is a prime suspect in the commissioner Raju murder case in Mohammadpur but not arrested due to the shelter provided by an influential BNP MP. Another commander in the Emon group currently is Boro Manik who was earlier with the Joseph group in Mohammadpur but later tied up with Emon.

According to a source close to Emon, the group has collected Tk 70 lakh extortion money from a group of Dhanmondi apartments still in construction about a month ago. The money was handed over to the group by the managing director of a building developer. ‘The entire Dhanmondi and Elephant Road are under the grasp of Emon who is the son of a famous gynaecologist,’ says a close source of the group.

In Jigatola and Hazaribagh, the crimes are led by the Emon group. Sohel’s residence is at Rayerbazar. His brother was earlier killed by the RAB but he was spared through the backing of a BNP MP. After the killing of his brother, he was not troubled because he supported the BNP and has worked for the party. Sohel is also responsible for the killing of killed the Chhatra league leader Asru.

Emon group’s most daring cadre was Topu who was killed by the RAB. Topu was the youngest brother of Helal. Before his death he is said to have confessed to the RAB that his entire extortions operations were carried out with Emon. Extortion from every flat and apartments in the Dhanmondi area are collected by this group.

A partial group of Mohammadpur is the Joseph group that is now headed by Boro Manik. This group has linked up with Emon recently, say underworld figures. As per information Boro Manik is currently hiding out in Ganderia.

On October 11, the RAB arrested Ruhel in suspicion of extortion and as a close aide of Boro Manik. Ruhel was making extortions and criminal movements in the Mohammadpur area for the past few months. As per information Ruhel belonged to the Sher Shah Suri area of Mohammadpur but was hiding in Munshiganj. He was killed in a ‘crossfire’ encounter.

‘We are prey to these gangsters ruling over our businesses. Without paying them we cannot stay in the business or live alive. Nowadays, most of us follow the instructions of these criminals and pay the extortion money at their specified location,’ says an owner of a bus company.

Greater Mirpur and Shah Ali Bagh

This group has taken over the greater Mirpur and Shah Ali Bagh area and have businessmen and residents of the area in complete fear. According to the RAB information there are at least 500 shops in the greater Mirpur area that are all in panic of the current state and especially concerned with the situation after the caretaker government came into power.

Shahdat (30) is said to be a former leader of Chhatra League in Mirpur Bangla College till 2001. Shahdat has at least 18 cases against him of which 11 are murders while Khorshed (30) has another 14 cases of which five are murders.

There is information that Shahdat’s group has more than 160 members closely involved in each and every operations carried out. However, majority of the group members are only informers, say RAB sources. Over the last three years, they have killed at least 15 businessmen. According to local businesspeople, nine other businessmen were killed in the last eight months in the city. They also alleged that the criminal gang had made a list of the most influential businesspeople in Mirpur and collected their information and individual profiles.

On August 15, businessman Haji Monir Uddin alias Monu was shot dead by the members of Shahdat.

The Detective Branch in its drive against the terror group in Mirpur caught five more criminals on November 16 after the arrest of eight crucial members of the gang earlier.

‘We have got hold of some of the top ranking criminals in the Shahdat-Khorshed gang and are only awaiting the arrival of the two commandants of the group,’ says Shohidul Islam, additional commissioner of the detective branch.

Noman Ibn Bashar alias TVS Babu, said to be one of Shahdat’s finest shooters was arrested in the recent drive. Noman specialises in committing symbolic murders by firing bullets into the skulls of his victims. The five arrested on November 16 by the DB were accused in the killing of businessman Monu in which Noman is also accused.

The killing of businessman Aftab Uddin, general secretary of the Mukta Bangla Shopping Complex on December 28 last year was one of the most sensational murders in Mirpur by the Shahdat group. Prior to his murder, the group had demanded huge amounts of extortion money and threatened him with death around five to six months back. His death raised a huge protest all over the Mirpur area and residents of the area are still living in fear and panic.

More recently on October 9, two members of the group shot at Qazi Motalib (38) manager of Prince Restaurant and Fakhrul Alam (30) an employee. Earlier, Kazi Shahidullah, owner of Prince Group, was shot dead by extortionists on August 12 as he declined to pay toll. The detective branch on November 16 arrested the criminals in the Prince Restaurant incident on October 9.

According to DB sources, the extortion continues over the markets and hotels in Mirpur. The shop owners pay anywhere between Tk 5,000 to Tk 10,000 a month while the market owners pay between Tk 2 to 4 lakh every month.

‘It is a difficult task. We are operating throughout Mirpur to get hold of the criminals. Our team has been successful in getting hold of a number of core members of Shahdat,’ says MA Bashar Talukdar, deputy police commissioner of the detective branch.

According to information with the RAB, the battalion has arrested at least 70 accomplices of Shahdat while eight have been killed in ‘crossfire’ incidents.

‘Criminals became aware of almost each and every plan of action by the law enforcement before the battalion came into act in the area,’ says a top official with the Mirpur battalion of RAB. Earlier members of Shahdat and mostly Ashik Chand used to make their targets during the morning hours of police changeover period which was between 7 and 8 in the morning. Killers mostly belonged to the Ashik Chand group in 2004 that used to commit symbolic murders firing bullets into the skulls and chests of their victims. Now the trend of such symbolic murders is taken over by the Shahdat group.

Shahdat and Khorshed often visit the Murshidabad border of India for calling. Khorshed, the second in command of Shahdat group has visited the country last month, reveal sources in the intelligence and mafia.

Till the last information Shahdat’s members are now demanding extortion money from residents of Mirpur to get their eight members released from the central jail. Shahdat’s killer squad comprise of around 10 members while he carries out most of the killings by professional killers. The contracts per killing range between Tk 5,000 to Tk 7,000, it is claimed.

Majority of the extortionists and killers belong to the age bracket of 18 and 22. They use the name of feared and wanted criminal Kala Jahangir to scare the victims and charge large amounts. However, the difference in their style of operation is explicit by the amounts they demand, which are often as small as Tk 5,000 to Tk 10,000. During the period of Kala Jahangir the extortion amounts were dealt in lakhs.

Information with the law enforcement authorities reveals Shahdat’s group possesses AK47 rifles, and other weapons like pistols, revolvers, and shot guns, and sources say they hold large amounts of arms and ammunition.

Kafrul, Bhashantek, Cantonment, Tongi upto Uttara

Beginning from Kafrul, Bhshantek, Cantonment, Tongi upto Uttara, the areas are controlled by Taj and Ibrahim. A huge sale of phensidyl and other drugs are transacted by this group within their areas. While their main business revolves around drugs, fisheries rank second in their business. They are backed by a leader of Juba Dal under Kafrul Police, say sources in the underworld. His top operatives who take care of the drugs trade on behalf of Taj and Ibrahim are Ratan and Jabbar. Extortions beginning from Bhashantek Bazar to all the other markets in Uttara, Tongi and most of Kafrul are carried out by the Taj and Ibrahim gangs. Every month they realise over Tk 50 lakh from markets in each area, say market associations. They mostly concentrate on drugs trade as the business is greater in their areas.

Major part of the income goes to the mafia leaders while a portion is retained by the Juba Dal and Chhatra Dal leaders, it is alleged.

‘There is no question of Taj’s group being destroyed as claimed by the law enforcers,’ assures a source from the mafia circle. The ring of Taj and Ibrahim in their areas is still strong and sustained by good number of their accomplices. However, a number of their group members have been arrested. Members ‘Killer Abbas’ and Sohel in Bhashantek are now in custody. All of them were members of the Kala Jahangir group once upon a time until they separated and became individual leaders. Kala Jahangir has been announced dead by the government, but underworld sources say he is still alive. Jahangir is thought to be living in Italy. He is currently maintaining his network through proxy ring leaders. Mirpur’s Shahdat and Khorshed group is a part of Kala Jahangir.

Moghbazar, Badda, Rampura, Tikatuli, Sabujbagh

Jishan, a top terror of Rampura, Tikatuli and Sabujabagh makes his money from extorting the hotels and market in the area. An accused in five murder cases and numerous extortions, Jishan is currently hiding in India but has visited the country only last month.

In Tikatuli alone there are more than 120 hotels that run illegal businesses, which involve gold smuggling, arms and drugs dealing and prostitution. All of these hotels run their businesses are said to run under the shelter of Jishan, Subrata Bain and Tanveer Islam Joy. These hotels bear the extortion amount anywhere between Tk 40,000 and one lakh. However, the law enforcement is unable to combat these crimes due to the reluctance of the victims and more so when the victims themselves are involved in crimes.

Sources in RAB say that their raids on the hotels have resulted in a rise on the prices of phensidyl to up to Tk 500.

Jishan has at least 20 cases against him of which five include murders and most of them for extortion. As per the police record Subrata Bain has another 20 cases against him of which at least seven are for murder.

Subrata Bain has become one of the most infamous mafia dons since the 90s. His influence in the crime world has grown so much that only a mention of his name compels the hotel and shop owners to pay any amount, says a law enforcement personnel.

In areas of Moghbazar, Badda, Sabujbagh and Rampura, the extortions are mostly carried out in hotels because of a bumper business in the sector. The transport sector extortion is however, minor in these areas as there are not many routes operating in those areas except Kamalapur and Fakirerpul.

According to RAB sources, criminals of the lowest profile working under Jishan, Joy or Bain earn at least Tk 1,000 a day for their jobs. Law enforcement personnel express their frustration over the well organised crimes that the group are carrying out daily.

‘There are separate groups for asking for extortion money over phone,’ says a RAB source. In most of these hotels the employees belong to the underworld groups who maintain the businesses. The amount the victims pay to these criminals are sometimes almost their entire profit, says a highly placed source of the battalion operating in these areas.

Hotels at Moghbazar and Tejgaon are maintained by Arman and Mollah Masud. There are around a hundred illegal hotels in this area that deal with drugs and prostitution. Hotels in these areas are one of the centre points for gold smuggling. Extortion amounts go over crores out of all these hotels. Karnaphuli market is extorted by Jishan.

Most market presidents and top order members of the associations are involved in the extortion process. However, due to the silent extortion carried out, market authorities deny any such activities in fear of reprisals. The extent of the extortion has risen with the inception of the elite force. As they came onto the streets, the existing crimes were reformed with permanence under agreements with stakeholders and mafia groups, say members of the Elephant Road Market Association.

This article was first published in New Age Xtra on November 24, 2006


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