Saad Hammadi looks into recent cases of kidnapping, a crime that has increased exponentially over the years
THE February 2002 abduction and murder of the 13-year-old Khandker Shihab Ahmed heralded the start of a new trend in crime in Bangladesh. On his way back home from Motijheel Model School and College on the afternoon of February 7, Shihab was abducted by kidnappers after luring him in with a bicycle. He was eventually strangled; his body was cut into twelve pieces and dumped in different parts of the city.
In August the same year, an eight-year old and a six-year old were kidnapped and killed. In both cases the kidnappers were known to the victims.
Rubayet Ahmed Bappi, a student of class III at Armanitola Government High School, was kidnapped by his cousin Shipon and some of his friends. Shipon demanded Tk 20 lakh from Rubayet’s father Alfu Mia in ransom. However, as Shipon and his friends realised that Rubayet might disclose their identity, they killed him and dumped the body into the river Sitalakhya. At Dhala, Rubel was kidnapped and killed by his brother-in-law Ripon. Ripon wanted to use the kidnapping to get dowry and property from his in-laws.
In Dhaka city, between January and October 2007, at least 143 kidnappings have been reported, with some cases involving multiple victims. According to official sources, as of December 2006, there were 1,367 cases awaiting investigation. While the police have traced the involvement of professional criminals in many cases, the majority of the ransom-related kidnappings were perpetrated by members of the victims’ family; in most cases, land dispute, drug addiction, family dispute and revenge were the motive.
‘The police need to make a quick response to rescue the kidnapped,’ says Abdul Jalil, a joint commissioner of police who heads the Detective Branch. ‘In a ransom case, they need to show utmost urgency because it concerns the life of the victims.’
As the number of kidnappings increases exponentially, the Criminal Investigation Department of police has commissioned an exclusive unit to deal with such crimes. The missing person information cell, led by Shammema Yasmin, an additional superintendent of police, coordinates with the state-run electronic media to air primary details of people missing.
‘As and when we get any information related to the missing person in response to the bulletins, we initiate investigation,’ says Phani Bhoushan Choudhury, an additional inspector general of police who heads the Criminal Investigation Department.
The authorities will eventually involve the private television and radio channels, if the current initiative proves to be successful.
Dodging the death trap
Amit Hasan Khan Raja, a student of class VIII at Holy Child Residential School and College, came home on Eid-ul-Fitr vacation. On October 21 evening, Amit went out of his East Rampura residence to meet his uncle Tuhin. Tuhin had told him he would take his nephew to a fair. As Amit came out, Tuhin bundled him into a car and drove away. Later that night, Amit’s father Waliullah Khan, a businessman, received a call. The kidnappers demanded Tk 50 lakh in ransom for his son’s release. Over the next couple of days, the kidnappers agreed to let Amit go for Tk 10 lakh. ‘In the meantime, they had called me 10-15 times,’ Waliullah recalls.
A distraught Waliullah turned to the Rapid Action Battalion. The battalion arrested three persons, including two of Amit’s relatives, Atiqul Islam Chunnu, 35, and Tuhin, 20, in connection with the abduction on October 25. As the manhunt continued, the abductors let Amit go on October 26. He was dropped near Badda at about 1:15am.
During the entire period of his captivity, Amit was moved from one location to the other. ‘They never stayed in one location for long,’ Amit recalls. ‘When they were taking me away, they tied my hands and blindfolded me so that I could not tell where I was being taken. If I cried they scolded me and they even threatened to kill me. Locked in a separate room I was hardly given food and even if I was they had mixed sedatives in my food or water which tasted sweet and I fell asleep shortly afterwards.’
Shahin, one of the two suspects now in hiding, is Amit’s uncle and Tuhin’s elder brother. Shahin would guard Amit when others were away.
‘It is unimaginable,’ says Waliullah. ‘All these while, they were constantly in touch with me and trying to console the family. I realise now that the reason was to find out how they could scare me more.’
Without strengthened parental guidance and active community vigilance, such occurrences will be difficult to curb, says Masudur Rahman, an additional deputy commissioner of the Detective Branch of police. ‘Our target is to save the victims. It becomes unfortunate and extremely frustrating when the kidnappers kill the victim with or without achieving their objectives in fear of what the consequences will be in case they are identified.’
Kidnap and kill
Injamul Haque was not as fortunate as Amit. He was abducted on October 17 from near his residence at Madhya Auspara in Tongi. The kidnappers called his mother Saju Akhter and demanded Tk 10 lakh in ransom. After much exhortation from Saju, the kidnappers agreed to let Injamul go for Tk 5 lakh and designated a date for her to deliver the money and get her son back. However, they did not turn up.
Ten days after his abduction, the Rapid Action Battalion found Injamul’s body dumped near an under-construction building at Tongi with a rope tied around his neck. On October 26, the battalion arrested four people in connection with Injamul’s homicide and was looking for another member of the gang. The kidnappers in custody confessed to their involvement in the abduction. They told the battalion that they had killed Injamul on October 20 when they realised that they were being tracked.
Sometimes the kidnappers befriend the victims before kidnapping them. In March 2007 Ashraful Islam Tuhin, 17, a secondary school certificate examinee, was kidnapped by a band of notorious criminals in Narayanganj. They had planned the abduction two months earlier. Two boys of Tuhin’s age, Rana and Ramjan, first befriended Tuhin to find out about his family status.
Tuhin may have discussed his family’s financial position with his new friends in good faith, his elder brother Ariful Islam says. ‘He may have told them that we spent Tk 10 lakh on our grandmother’s treatment. She died earlier this year.’
On March 24, Tuhin was abducted from his house initially by his two ‘friends’ and later joined by twelve others. The fourteen operated from different locations, observing the family, making threats and demanding ransom.
Rana visited his house often to console the family. Little did Tuhin or his family know that his new friends would be party to his killing. On the night of March 30, Tuhin was killed. On March 31, the police found his dead body dumped near a graveyard in an area between Narsingdi and Madhabdi.
Between April and May, the Narayanganj police headed by ASP Zannatul Hasan arrested the entire group involved in Tuhin’s killing. Among those arrested, four were below the age of 20. The members belonged to the notorious Rakmat group. Records acquired by New Age reveal five of the fourteen arrested were previously implicated in murder cases.
‘I had to kill Tuhin to save the group,’ one of his killers, Mojibar, told New Age while in police custody.
‘If we released him, he would have brought trouble for us,’ says Rana.
When asked how they treated Tuhin in the seven days, Mojibar said, ‘I allowed him to say his prayers and he did not create any problem for us. He was a nice boy but we could not release him because he knew us.’
‘My son will never come back but I pray that his killers are punished so that no criminals will ever empty a mother’s heart again,’ Tuhin’s mother Asma Begum says.
The laws against kidnapping are rigorous but are only effective if and when the cases are resolved and prosecuted, says Phani Bhoushan.
Sections 363, 364 and 365 of the Bangladesh Penal Code deal with kidnapping and detail punishment on the basis of the type and extent of the offence. Section 8 of the Women and Children Repression Act 2000, amended in 2003, stipulates life imprisonment, and even death penalty, in case of kidnapping of children and women.
This article was first published in New Age Xtra on November 16, 2007