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BDR mutiny ‘brain’ caught

Dhaka, March 2: The suspected mastermind of the Bangladesh Rifles rebellion, Touhidul Alam, was in custody today as the army joined police in hunting for the 1,000-odd fugitive border guards facing murder charges.

Alam, BDR deputy assistant director, was captured while trying to flee the country, said Nabo Jyoti Khisha, chief of Lalbagh police station where cases have been filed.

“The massacre took place under his (Alam’s) leadership. The rebels had accepted him as their leader,” Khisha said.

“We have already gathered enough evidence, including the statements of survivors, and the process is under way to collect more.”

Alam had come under the spotlight within hours of the mutiny erupting on Wednesday, when he led a team of rebels for talks with the Prime Minister. He secured a deal from Sheikh Hasina: amnesty for the mutineers and a promise to solve their problems in exchange for surrender.

The rebel leader, who had risen from sepoy to officer rank, then returned to the BDR headquarters but waited till Thursday night before laying down arms. He is accused of having deliberately killed time so his men could bury the dead in mass graves and flee under the cover of darkness.

Alam had five suspected co-conspirators — deputy assistant directors Jalil, Nasiruddin Khan and Mirza Mahbubur Rahman, and jawans Abdur Rahim and Selim — the security forces have said.

Army troops today fanned out across the country to capture the fugitive mutineers, charged with sedition, murder, looting, arson and hostage-taking. “Operation Rebel Hunt is progressing well,” a security official said.

“I have summoned the army and other forces to hunt for them (the rebels),” Sheikh Hasina said.

The home ministry has put out a notice asking people to immediately inform their nearest police stations if they had any information about absconding BDR personnel.

The army today downscaled the number of its officers killed from 63 to 56 and the number of missing from 72 to seven. A senior officer said the previous — and mistaken — figures of 63 dead and 72 missing had been based on BDR rebels’ accounts.

Earlier, former military ruler H.M. Ershad, now an MP, had suggested the BDR should be disbanded.

“According to law, this organisation should be disbanded if you call it a mutiny,” the 79-year-old Ershad, whose Jatiya Party is the second-largest constituent of Hasina’s Awami League-led alliance, said.

President Zillur Rahman and the army chief, General Moeen Ahmed, today led thousands of mourners at a mass state funeral for 49 officers and the wife of the BDR chief, Major General Shakil Ahmed.

Air force jets flew overhead in salute as 50 coffins draped in national and army flags were brought to Dhaka’s military stadium and placed on a red-carpeted podium.

Relatives of the dead came from across the country to attend the service, where army officers and troops said prayers for their comrades.

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