On its part, it was a shrewd move by those sitting in Hawa Bhaban, infamously known as the alternative powerhouse of the BNP-led government. They wanted to kill two birds with one stone.
It not only masterminded the 2004 grenade attack on an Awami League rally targeting then opposition chief Sheikh Hasina, but also drew up plans to blame Awami League itself for the gruesome incident.
It was an act of pure manoeuvring. The aim was to make the incident look like the other way around – that the Awami League itself had carried out the attack to tarnish the image of the BNP government and to overthrow it.
A month after the attack, BNP Chairperson and then prime minister Khaleda Zia said: “The grisly grenade attack was aimed at diverting the people's attention from the government's success that made them [the Awami League] worried about their future.”
Hasina narrowly escaped death and sustained ear injuries in the blasts, but 24 Awami League members, including former president Zillur Rahman’s wife Ivy Rahman, were killed. Around 300 others were maimed.
Following the attack, the attackers had an unhindered exit from the scene, throwing the role of police into question.
The government of Khaleda Zia soon faced pressure from the international community to launch a probe. It also agreed to allow agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Interpol to visit Dhaka for assisting the investigation.
As part of the plan to engineer the probe and put the blame on the Awami League, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials made up the farcical “Joj Mia” story and detained the man from Noakhali along with 20 petty criminals.
They cooked up another story involving Mokhlesur Rahman, a leader of the Awami League and former ward commissioner of Moghbazar in the city.
Joj was coerced into confessing that Mokhlesur was one of those who had conspired the grenade attack.
Through a judicial commission, the BNP-led government also tried to prove that foreign enemies had set the attack up, and some wanted criminals hiding in neighbouring India had a hand in it.
Justice Joynal Abedin, a Supreme Court judge, headed the commission. However, the commission’s 162-page report did not explicitly say which country the foreign enemies were from.
Following the submission of the report, the BNP-led government heightened Justice Joynal’s security. He was also elevated to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in 2006.
Later on, when further investigations revealed that a section of the BNP leaders were involved in plotting the attack, Justice Joynal defended his findings, saying: “My report was entirely based on the evidence that was collected by the commission at that time.”
Khaleda did not even allow the then Directorate General of Forces Intelligence chief, Major General (retd) Sadik Hasan Rumi, to investigate the incident, according to his 2012 deposition in court.
He met Khaleda a day after the attack and sought her permission to conduct a probe.
“She [Khaleda] told me that a committee would be formed to carry out an investigation, and that I need not investigate,” Rumi told the court.
This was an epitome of the abuse of state power by the BNP to derail the investigation into such a critical incident.
By the end of 2004, the farcical nature of the probe was finally exposed.
After the caretaker government assumed office, the CID submitted two separate charge sheets in June 2007, accusing 22 people, including militant group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (Huji) Bangladesh chief Mufti Abdul Hannan and former deputy minister of the BNP government Abdus Salam Pintu.
But following the prosecution's petition, the court in August 2009 ordered further probe and a new investigation officer was assigned.
The CID in July 2011 submitted a supplementary charge sheet, accusing 30 more people, including Khaleda’s son Tarique Rahman and Lutfozzaman Babar, state minister for home affairs during BNP’s tenure.
According to the supplementary charge sheet, the attack was an outcome of collaboration among Huji, influential leaders of the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami, and a section of senior officials of the Home Ministry, police, the DGFI, the National Security Intelligence and the Prime Minister's Office.
Hannan and his accomplices agreed to execute the grenade attack as they were promised that they would be allowed to enjoy impunity and continue their criminal activities after completion of the task.
Those who hired Hannan remained true to their word as he did not face any consequences and Joj was implicated in the case instead.
The Huji chief continued to operate under the BNP government's protection for around four years, starting in 2001. He was captured in 2005 after the BNP launched crackdowns on militants in the wake of the nationwide serial blasts executed by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) that year.
Hannan was executed in 2017.