The Rapid Action Battalion (Rab), Bangladesh's elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit yesterday arrested a Biman Bangladesh Airlines co-pilot, who according to the force, was planning to carry out a suicide attack on the houses of government high-ups with an aircraft.
First Officer Sabbir Emam Sabbir, 31, had an alternative plan of kidnapping passengers of an aircraft and taking it to a country in the Middle East, Mufti Mahmud Khan, director (legal and media wing) of the Rab told a press conference in the capital.
He did not give details of the alleged plans by the arrestee, who is the son of the arrested owner of a building raided by the Rab in the capital's Darussalam area around two months ago.
During the operation on September 4-8, Abdullah alias Meer Akrabul Karim, a suspected JMB leader, was killed along with his two wives, two children and two of his associates in massive explosions inside their apartment.
The Rab claimed that Abdullah had exploded "powerful" bombs. Later, seven skulls were recovered from their apartment.
Yesterday, the Rab members also arrested Sabbir's mother Sultana Parvin, 55, their relative Asifur Rahman Asif, 25, and local tea-stall owner Alam, 30, for their alleged links with militancy.
They were caught in raids in different areas of Mirpur between 2:00am and 11:00am, Mufti Mahmud said.
"During primary interrogation, Sabbir admitted making the plans…We came to know about the plans from the confessional statement of JMB man Billal Hossain, who was arrested in Narayanganj on October 26," he said.
Replying to a query, the Rab official claimed that Billal was a close associate of Abdullah. He came to know about Sabbir and his planning through the suspected militant killed in that raid.
Although Rab claimed that Abdullah was a top leader of Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, DMP's counterterrorism sources said the man, widely known as Kabutar Abdullah, had cut ties with the banned militant outfit.
Wishing anonymity, a CTTC official yesterday said, "We had information about Abdullah, but we never raided his house as we were told that he had severed all his ties with JMB."
During the press conference at the Rab media centre in Karwan Bazar, Mufti Mahmud said, "Sabbir had made the plans along with Abdullah and Sarwar Jahan alias Manik before and after the Gulshan cafe attack last year." Except Sultana, the three arrestees were paraded before the media at the briefing yesterday.
Sarwar Jahan, a suspected JMB man, died after he jumped off a five-storey building during a Rab raid in Ashulia on the outskirts of the capital on October 8 last year.
Sabbir has been working for Biman since 2014. He used to fly Boeing 737 as the first officer. He worked for another local airline from 2010 to 2014, said Rab.
An official of Biman's public relations department told The Daily Star that Sabbir had refused to fly aircraft following the anti-militancy drive on his house.
Sabbir formally appealed to the director of flight operations not to ask him to fly aircraft considering his "mental state" following the arrest of his father in the raid.
The appeal was approved and he was off duty for a certain period of time, said the official.
The Rab yesterday said Sabbir again flew a Biman flight on the Dhaka-Kolkata-Dhaka route on Monday.
Contacted, Biman Managing Director AM Mosaddique Ahmed said, "We are inquiring into the matter. If the allegation against him [Sabbir] is proved, action should be taken as per the law."
Mufti Mahmud also claimed that Sabbir had promised Abdullah to "donate" Tk 10 lakh (to JMB) he was supposed to get as service allowances.
He further claimed that Sabbir, Sultana and their relative Asif had taken Bayah (oath of allegiance) from Sarwar Jahan.
According to the Rab official, Sultana used to provide financial support to Abdullah while Asif used to collect and supply different types of chemical to Abdullah for making bombs, he said, adding that the tea stall owner, Alam, also had "close links with Abdullah".
Inspired by militant attacks in the USA, France and Germany, Abdullah had planned to drive a truck into a police establishment before the last Ramadan. He was trying to have the truck with the help of Asif, he said.
The Rab official further claimed that Billal, who was arrested in Narayanganj, used to carry bombs to Abdullah in different areas of the country.