The day before the massacre

Recruitment of rebel officers

Having been assured that Khandaker Moshtaque would be available on the day, Rashid began to look around for officers who could assist in the strike. The failure of the earlier moves had shown they could not depend on serving army officers so Rashid craftily hit upon the idea of recruiting ex-army officers who had a grudge against Sheikh Mujib. Such men could be counted on to fall in with the plot. Rashid telephoned ex-Major Shariful Huq Dalim who expressed his and other fellow officer's discontent and entreated Rashid to help them redress their grievance. Dalim also promised Major Abdur Rashid his 'co-operation' in this respect. In return, Major Abdur Rashid reassured Major Dalim that both he and Major Farook were dealing with the matter which would be resolved soon. He invited Dalim for a chat.

Dalim arrived that same night around 10pm. Rashid briefed him in general terms about the plot without giving details of the timing or the tactical plan and asked if he would like to join them. Dalim was willing but wanted to bring ex-Major Nur Chowdhury with him. Dalim brought Nur to Rashid's house that night at 1 am (on 14 August 1975) and they had a long discussion about the plot during which Rashid stressed that for an initial period it would be necessary for Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed to replace Sheikh Mujib. Nur apparently was willing to join but was not convinced that Rashid had got Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed to fall in with the plot to kill Sheikh Mujib. To reassure him, Rashid suggested that they met at 5pm that day (14 August) outside the Atomic Research Centre. He would take them to Khandaker Moshtaque's house to prove how friendly he was with them.

When Rashid turned up at the rendezvous, he was surprised to find Nur with another retired officer, ex-Major Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan who he had not met before. Rashid began to have misgivings about his companions but decided that by that time he had no way out. So when Nur assured him that Shariar could be trusted, the three of them went off to Khandaker Moshtaque's house.

Though no appointment had been made, they were quickly ushered in to see the Minister. Khandaker Moshtaque received Rashid warmly and was introduced to the others. Rashid explained they had just dropped in to greet him and after a few pleasantries they left. Apparently the experiences was enough to convince Nur and Shariar that Rashid had an understanding with Moshtaque. "After that" Rashid said "they told me that 'any time you want our help we will be with you'".

Rashid asked Dalim, Nur and Shariar to join him and Farook at 10pm at the new airport beyond the Cantonment where his unit would be on night training exercises. To make sure they would come he held out the bait that they could see at first hand the military preparations and could also have a fuller discussion about details of the plot.

Even at that late stage Rashid was not prepared to trust the other conspirators with the whole truth that had himself learnt from Farook only 48 hours earlier. Sheikh Mujib was to be killed the next morning.

Anthony Mascarenhas,

Andha Hafiz: "His time has run out...do it very secretly"

Sitting in a broken-down taxi in the middle of a Chittagong bazaar, Farook's wife Farida was bathed in nervous sweat. For over an hour she had been trying to get to Halishaar with an urgent message for Andha Hafiz. It was a little after 11 am on 14 August 1975 and she was running out of time.

Farida had arrived in the port city the previous afternoon with her mother who was returning home from Dhaka after the mid-week anniversary party. Farook had sent her to consult the blind holy man, and his instructions were explicit:

Tell him also that I'm not doing it for personal desire or ambition. I am prepared to follow the path of Allah, whichever way He wills, I want him to tell me if I'm doing wrong or right or if there is anything else I must do.

Farook asked wife to consult Andha Hafiz for direction

Farook had asked Farida to telephone Andha Hafiz's answer to him in Dhaka by noon. She was not going to make the deadline. "We had much difficulty in getting a baby taxi (three-wheeler) and the one we finally got broke down several times", Farida recalls. When she eventually reached the holy man's house the taxi driver, instead of apologising for the trouble, demanded 27 takas for the trip.

Farida found Andha Hafiz dressed in a lungi and cotton vest, sitting cross-legged on a low wooden bed. Assorted garments hung from a rope stretched across the single room. As she sat on a cane stool in front of him Farida remembered getting the scent of unseen flowers and a cooling breeze which quickly made her comfortable. Finding no sign of a fan, the thought crossed her mind that heaven had a way of keeping Andha Hafiz cool.

Anthony Mascarenhas

The blind man held her hand as he quietly listened to Farook's message. After what seemed to be an agony of waiting, he let out a deep sigh and with some emotion in his voice told her in Urdu:

His time has run out. Do what you have to do but do it very secretly.

Andha Hafiz,

There was another long silence. Then he earnestly advised her to tell Farook that before he undertook his task he must pray with the fullest sincerity for God's support. His commanders must do likewise. He also gave two Surahs which he said Farook must recite constantly "so that his mind would be fixed with a holy zeal and he could think of nothing else". One of these Surahs was the Muslim prayer for the dead. The other was an dua (invocation) to ward off evil.

As she got up to leave Farida asked Andha Hafiz to pray for her husband and his companions. "Don't worry", he gently comforted her, "I have placed them in the hands of God. It's His will. He will take care of them.

Andha Hafiz comforts Farida

Farida's troubles were not over yet. When she returned to her father's house she found the telephone lines to Dhaka were not working. Two hours later there was no answer from Farook's telephone. Farida then telephoned her sister's house and got a very bad connection. In desperation she called her father-in-law. "Find Farook and ask him to telephone me urgently", she implored him. Dr. Rahman found his son at home fast sleep. Apparently the young major had returned home early and finding nothing to do had decided to take a nap. It was 5pm before Farida finally passed on the fateful message.

Andha Hafiz was not the only one to see doom in Sheikh Mujib's stars. A senior member of the President's personal staff, Ruhul Quddus, was a well known amateur palmist. He had read Mujib's palm at the beginning of July. What he saw apparently alarmed him so much that he quickly set off with his wife for 'extended medical treatment' in Europe. The presentiment saved his neck. He was out of the country when Mujib was killed and the Bangladesh government for many months unsuccessfully tried to get him back.

Anthony Mascarenhas,

Dhaka University put final touches to ceremony

Known as the 'Oxford of the East', Dhaka University (DU) was putting the final touches to their convocation ceremony to be held tomorrow (15 August 1975) for their newly appointed Chancellor, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As a Law student of the university, Sheikh Mujib led a black-flag demo against Jinnah in March 1948 demanding Bangla be made a state language along with Urdu. He was also arrested in the following year for leading a strike to campaign for lower salary employees. Upon his release from jail he found out that he'd been rusticated from the university.

Now, for its first convocation in independent Bangladesh, DU wore a festive look as it prepared to accord a reception to Jathir Jonok (Father of the Nation) and Bangabandhu (Friend of Bengal) Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Vice-Chancellor Dr. Abdul Matin Chowdhury would lead the reception.

Interestingly, in 1973 Dr. Matin Chowdhury had initially rejected the proposal of being the Vice-Chancellor of DU upon his wife Razia Matin's advice as she feared "it might create enemies for him". However, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman persuaded Dr. Matin Chowdhury to accept the role.

Anyone can become president and prime minister of the country, but everybody does not have the eligibility of being vice-chancellor of Dhaka University.

Sheikh Mujib's compliment motivates Dr. Abdul Matin Chowdhury to accept DU Vice-Chancellor role

For tomorrow's ceremony Sheikh Mujib's 10-year-old son Russell was chosen by the Principal of the University Laboratory School as one of the six boys to welcome the Chancellor when he visited the university.

According to the University schedule, Sheikh Mujib would come to the sociology department where the children, including his son Sheikh Russell, would show respect to him by pouring flower petals from a decorated silver plate. Sheikh Mujib would then visit the Arts Building and then the other buildings and halls. Finally the teachers and students were to receive him with garlands at the convocation venue at Teacher-Student Centre (TSC) where a citation would be read out. Then the convocation would start at 10am. It was decided no gate would be erected in the university to welcome the Father of the Nation since, according to Razia Matin, Sheikh Mujib "disliked wastage of money".

There was even no excess of flowers. The students and teachers of Fine Arts Institute decorated the campus without any remuneration. The gardeners of DU make 100 garlands throughout the night.

There was a programme of cutting cake at the VC's residence after the convocation. There were arrangements for tea. Snacks were brought for all from Purbani Hotel, but [we] prepared pitha (cakes) and 'singara' (fried food item) for the President considering the issue of his security.

Razia Matin, wife of Prof. Abdul Matin and former principal of DU Laboratory School and College

Security was tightened for the ceremony as a hand grenade exploded in the afternoon in the university campus where Sheikh Mujib was supposed to distribute certificates. However, bomb blast were a common feature post March 1971 therefore very few people were disturbed by them whilst sleeping. Nevertheless, no chances were taken for tomorrow's prestigious event. The then Inspector General of Police (Bangladesh's equivalent of Chief of Police) A. H. M. Nurul Islam telephoned Major General Shafiullah and sought army's help as the police had no explosives expert.

I sent several detachments to sweep through the zone to detect explosives.

Major General K. M. Shafiullah

Meanwhile, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned from Ganobhaban at 8.30pm whilst his son Sheikh Kamal had returned home after midnight from the university campus, where last-minute touches were being given to the preparations to welcome Sheikh Mujib. At the same time finishing touches were being given to a plot at the Dhaka cantonment.

Brigadier Jamil, the President's Security Chief, spent a restless night. His wife was ill, and he had to escort the president to the university in the morning. It was not a new duty for him, but he was very uneasy. He had been appointed Director of the Field Intelligence Unit, but handing over charge of the Unit to him had somehow not been completed still. Jamil's wife asked him to go to sleep. "I can't sleep", he said.

Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed too spent a sleepless night. There were a number of visitors to 54 Agha Mashi Lane, Moshtaque's house in old Dhaka. One of the visitors was Major Rashid.

Taheruddin Thakur was like a cat on hot bricks that night. Any call would make him jump. He tried to calm his nerves with prayers. He had a bath and got ready as if he had to keep an appointment at an unearthly hour. A guest in the house wondered why Taheruddin was so tense.

A.L. Khatib, Journalist

Night training exercises used as guise

Night training exercises for the 1st Bengal Lancers and the 2nd Field Artillery on 14 August 1975 began normally at 10pm. None of the officers or the 600 men of the two units gathered at the yet incomplete new Dhaka airport beyond the Cantonment or in the tank garages nearby, had even a suspicion of the movement operation their commanding officers had planned for them. Major Farook and Rashid were observing Andha Hafiz's exhortation to secrecy in the strictest possible way.

The only thing out the ordinary that night was the fact that one of the artillery regiments' three company-strength batteries had been ordered to dismount, arm themselves with rifles and proceed in 12 trucks to the exercise staging area. Even that order did not raise eyebrows since Major Rashid, on resuming command of the regiment, had often varied the training routine.

Kader Siddiqui, better known as Tiger (Baga) Siddiqui for his exploits in the Liberation War, was one of the governors-designate.When he was going to the Post Graduate Hospital in Dhaka to see his ailing mother on the evening of 14 August, he saw a tank near Karwan Bazar. There was another tank near the hospital, which is almost opposite the Radio Station.

After seeing his mother, Kader drove down to Motijheel. Yet another tank; three tanks within a radius of one kilometre. He turned back. There was still another tank near the Engineer's Institute, hardly two hundred metres from the hospital. It was a little past 11 pm. Kader Siddiqui drove on to the Rakkhi Bahini camp near Gano Bhaban in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar. Anwarul Alam Shahid, Deputy Director of the Rakkhi Bahini, told Kader Siddiqui that the Bengal Lancers had been authorised to take out three tanks.

But why were there four tanks? Shahid said, "You may have seen one tank twice." Could be. Shahid was a former student leader and had fought in the liberation war. There was no reason to doubt what he said.

Tank manoeuvres were a Thursday-night routine and twice a month the Bengal Lancers and the Second Field Artillery held combined exercise.

It was late by the time Kader Siddiqui returned home. He asked his sister not to wake him up in the morning. He had been leaving home early for many days now, but the training program for governors-designate would end tomorrow with a lunch meeting at which all the ministers would be present. He could take it easy.

A.L. Khatib, Journalist

Rashid assembled six 105mm Yugoslav-made Howitzers with plenty of ammunition on the airport perimeter. The crews did not know it, but the guns, according to Rashid's 'practice' orders, were soon zero'd on the Rakkhi Bahini headquarters barracks four miles away. Eleven other field guns were kept in the unit headquarters with crews at standby. The eighteenth gun in the regimental arsenal Rashid ordered to be taken with crew to the Lancers' garage, a quarter of a mile away where Major Farook had started up twenty-eight T-54 tanks in the usual way. Due to mechanical failure he was that night two short of the normal complement.

Apart from the CO's there were only 4 officers from each unit present. Two other officers - not fully trusted - had been told to skip the exercise. The troops were another matter. Every available man of each unit had been mustered.

It is significant of Mujib's faded image that both Farook and Rashid had not the slightest doubt that the troops - common men all of them - when ordered would not hesitate to come out against Mujib.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Failure to lure infantry unit

Rashid had till the last moment been trying to bring in an infantry unit so that the coup, for political reasons, could seem to represent a cross-secion of the army. To achieve this he had that morning telephoned an old friend, Major Shahjehan, the acting commandment of the 16th Bengal Infantry stationed at Joydevpur, to bring his troops to the new airport in Dhaka for an unscheduled combined training exercise. He did not confide in Shahjehan but was confident that once the infantry unit had arrived on the scene he could talk it into joining the plot. The unsuspecting Major Shahjehan accepted Rashid's suggestion and promised to march his troops to Dhaka by 10pm. Rashid was now anxiously waiting for the 16th Bengal Infantry and his fellow conspirators, ex-Majors Dalim, Nur and Shahriar.

There was no sign of them at 10.30pm when Shahjehan came through on the telephone to say his men were too tired and that he was calling off the rendezvous. When given this disappointing news Farook bitterly remarked, "It seems that the Bengal Tigers have become pussy cats".

Farook finally informs all officers around midnight

Meanwhile, there was still no sign of Dalim and his companions. They turned up at 11pm bringing along Major Abdul Aziz Pasha and Major Bazlul Huda. The latter was a serving military intelligence officer and a good friend of Dalim since they had once served together in the artillery corps. Rashid took the group and his 12 trucks to join Farook at the tank garages. It was only around midnight that the details of the operation were finally made known to all.

Major Farook, who was in overall command of the operation, led the discussion. He played on the fear of the gathering assassins by suggesting that the army would be disbanded and they'll go into 'slavery'. It was their 'Islamic duty', he argued, to do something about this. He also assured the officers that the political aftermath of their action would be dealt with Major Abdur Rashid via his 'connections' and that Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed would run the country after Sheikh Mujib's removal. Farook then asked the officers if they would like to join. When they all agreed, he immediately got down to business.

Farook spat fire and venom. He said that Mujib had sold the country to foreign powers and was going to break up the army and disband the Lancers. He played on their fears and incited them in the name of Islam. It was time to strike.

A.L. Khatib, Journalist

Method of attack

With his well-worn tourist map of Dhaka City spread on the squadron office table, Farook ticked off the various points he wanted blocked. One tank would block the runway at Dhaka airport and the troops would control the bridge on the Mirpur Road. Other teams were sent to the radio station, to Bangabhaban and the New Market where the Pilkhana Barracks of the Bangladesh Rifles were located. Three big teams ranging from 75 to 150 men were assigned to the principal targets - Sheikh Mujib, Abdur Rab Serniabat and Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni.

Dalim was asked to lead the assault on Sheikh Mujib's bungalow. He declined, probably because of his own family's close ties with the President's family. Instead he volunteered for Serniabat's house. It was then decided that Major Bazlul Huda would lead the attack on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family since he was the Adjutant of the 1st Field Artillery regiment who were on protective guard on Sheikh Mujib's house. He would be supported by Major A. K. M. Mohiuddin, Nur Chowdhury and Mohiuddin and one company of Lancers.

The whole area were to be sealed off by army and tank support would be provided by Major Farook's Bengal Lancers should the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini, Sheikh Mujib's protective militia, intervene. Major Farook himself would lead the disarmament of the Jatiyo Rakkhi Bahini and control Mirpur bridge.

Farook's trusted NCO, Risaldar Muslehuddin (nicknamed 'Muslim') was to lead the assault on Sheikh Moni.

The area of Minto Road (home to Sheikh Mujib's brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat) and the residential area of the ministers were assigned to Major Dalim, Major Rashed Chowdhury, Captain Mostafa and another officer.

The officers were instructed to kill the three main protagonist, but should anyone else show resistance then they were to execute them.

Their instructions were that they should kill Sheikh Mujib, Serniabat and Moni. Mujib's sons Kamal and Jamal were to be taken prisoner. No one else was to be touched. But they were given the latitude to proceed according to developments and, if necessary, "wipe out anything en route". This opened the door for subsequent massacre.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Whoever they all were, the conspirators aimed at Mujib's seed and also at his legacy.

,

  • Mohiuddin Ahmed ( - )
  • A.K.M. Mohiuddin Ahmed ( - )
  • Risaldar Muslehuddin ( - )
  • A. M. Rashed Chowdhury ( - )
  • Mostafa ( - )

Major Shahriar was given the charge of the Radio Bhaban (Station) - from where the announcement of the killing and transfer of power to Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed would later take place.

Rashid's job, according to Farook, was a 'political' one. When the operation got under way he had to rope in Squadron Leader Liaquat and have him stand by with the MiGs in case out-station army units tried to come into Dhaka . Rashid had two other responsibilities. One was to take Khandaker Moshtaque Ahmed to the radio station, announce the overthrow of Sheikh Mujib and introduce Moshtaque as the new President. The other was to try to win over Brigade headquarters and the top army brass after the assassination.

Farook had a deep psychological insight into the mental processes of his fellow officers. He knew they would take at least two hours to mobilise any of the army units stationed in Dhaka. He was also certain that once it was established that Sheikh Mujib was dead, the army commanders would hesitate to make a move lest it endanger their own lives and jobs. So he did not bother to keep them covered. Instead he sent Rashid to win them over once the dreadful killing was done.

In the event Farook was proved remarkably correct.

Anthony Mascarenhas,

Once Major Farook finished disclosing the plan, he tasked Major Mohiuddin with providing the soldiers in civil dress with black uniform and to supply them with ammunition. He finished by stating that tanks were to be started on his orders and that the Field Regiment forces would leave before the tanks had left.

Another family wedding brings the Sheikh family together for the last time

Fate, it seemed, was also working against Mujib's family. The marriage of his niece, his favourite sister's daughter, on 10 August 1975 had brought the clan together in Dhaka. Serniabat's sons had come in from Khulna for the occasion bringing with them several close friends. They all stayed on in Dhaka because Serniabat on 14 August 1975 was observing his dead mother's 'Arba'een' or 'Chehlum', the 40th day ceremony in many Islamic cultures which marks for Muslims the end of the period of mourning. Thus the entire family was concentrated within a half square mile of Dhanmondi when Farook and Rashid decided to strike.

Though the majors had not banked on it, Mujib was made even more vulnerable by a remarkable coincidence. Brigadier AMS Nuruzzaman, the tough commandant of the Rakkhi Bahini, was on a visit to Europe. His Second-in-Command was a relatively junior officer who was acting independently for the first time. Thus Mujib's elite storm troopers were not geared, as they normally were, for instant action.

On that fateful day in August, Sheikh Mujib was blissfully riding a crest. The BAKSAL apparatus for a one-party state was complete. The 61 District Governors would be in their posts after the weekend. Mujib himself had another trick up his sleeve. He was scheduled to make an important speech at Dhaka University next day, when it had been secretly arranged that by public acclamation he should be declared President for Life. With the Opposition shut out and his own position firmly nailed down, there would be nothing to touch him. Mujib was not to know what the majors were up to, although the reports that he was getting suggested that something was cooking in the Cantonment. Mujib therefore concentrated his intelligence work where his Pakistani experience had taught him the danger lay - the army commanders. He did not bother about the junior officers. The mistake cost him his life.

Anthony Mascarenhas