Journal from July – Calls of dread

Photo: Saad Hammadi

I just got off an interview with the CNN International discussing how the murder of a Hindu priest earlier in the morning was in a series of such attacks racking up scores for terrorist outfits that have largely become globally connected.

I wanted to call it a day for work, only that I knew it was far from over. Minutes before the interview I started receiving texts from colleagues and friends about shooting taking place in Gulshan. Hostages held. Were they bandits or terrorists? Hard to say. This is new for a city so densely populated. A simple bicycle’s bump into a car on street can lead up to spat that would block the entire road and be joined by curious onlookers. Who would dare do something as crazy as holding hostage? I wondered.

Seconds into going live on the interview, someone from the backstage spoke on my earphone asking, ‘We are hearing about this shooting taking place in Dhaka as we speak? Do you know anything about it?’

I knew I did not have enough time before I had to be on the field. Something big was cooking up in the tri-state area. On the news the Rapid Action Battalion chief Benazir Ahmed urged civilians to stay away from the area for safety. I rang up Ashraful Karim, the assistant police commissioner in Gulshan zone to find out what was happening there. Three persons including two police officials badly injured. Attackers fired shots, exploded bombs. This wasn’t robbery. One after another attack has been taking place across the world. This time it is Bangladesh.

I informed the London desk at The Guardian with updates from my source. Time was running out. The only way to report this better was I being on the ground. My editor at desk advised to maintain safety as I prepared myself for the trip down. It’s going to be a long night.

I reached Gulshan almost two hours into the incident. The two police officials injured in the attacked succumbed to their injuries. This was getting bad. There still wasn’t headway into the crises. Outbound cars from Gulshan were stuck at the mouth of the Sports Shooting Club for at least an hour.

I walked a stretch of one kilometre to find nothing until I find a rickshaw to take me only another kilometre and that too would still be far away from the spot I am heading down to. Some rickshaw-pullers became price makers overnight charging five times the fare they would make in one trip. The streetlights have been taken out on authority’s instructions. The police have also asked the television channels to stop any live coverage of the event, which slowed down any real-time information that was going to the public.

The rickshaw drops me at the Gulshan-2 junction from Gulshan-1. I still have to reach miles to reach United Hospital, which is where I hear injured people from the attack were being taken. I knew it would be difficult to get much from the spot under siege. The next best place for a journalist was the hospital to get any information of whatever was happening.

The rickshaw-puller, saying it was not possible to go any further, paused and then added unless I carried some medicines to show to the police I had someone at the hospital to visit. Coincidentally, the only store open at that hour of crisis, under the darkness of the sky lit only by streetlights, was a pharmacy opposite the road I was standing. I reached there, bought two strips of paracetamol and a roll of bandage. With that I got on another rickshaw to get me to my destination.

The ticking clock had me worrying. On top of that my phone was running low on battery. The CNN interview was I thought the last bit of work for the day after which I would put my phone on charge but here I am. All of a sudden the use of my phone increased. Calls, emails, browsing, texts, everything went on simultaneously.

As I enter the lane taking me to the United Hospital, I see a platoon of soldiers of the Border Guard Bangladesh walking in a row. I finally arrive at the hospital gate. Anxious pressmen are waiting outside. The hospital has been made off limits to public on instruction of authorities. Only policemen in uniform were allowed inside. What was going on? What is all this preparation for? How many hostages? Who are these criminals?



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