A passenger who was shot dead by commandoes after he allegedly tried to hijack a Bangladeshi airliner was carrying a toy gun, a police official who cited a ballistics report said Wednesday, although witness accounts stated that the suspect had fired his weapon twice.
Security forces stormed the Dubai-bound Biman Bangladesh Airlines Flight BG 147 on Feb. 24, after it made an emergency landing at the Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong, about 250 km (150 miles) southeast of Dhaka. The Boeing 737-800 was carrying 143 passengers and seven crewmen, when it was reportedly hijacked after taking off from the Bangladeshi capital for Chittagong, the scheduled first leg of the flight to Dubai.
“We have received the ballistics report from the ballistic experts in the CID on Tuesday and the report says that it is a useless toy gun,” Inspector Rajesh Barua told BenarNews, referring to the Criminal Investigation Department.
Witnesses said the hijack drama began within 20 minutes after takeoff, when the suspected hijacker tried to force his way into the cockpit. But the pilot immediately informed the control tower that he was undertaking an emergency landing.
Security forces quickly surrounded the aircraft and, officials said, the man was captured after commandos shot and wounded him when he opened fire first.
As a part of the police probe, CID handed over the official forensic examination on the suspect’s pistol to the counter-terrorism unit of the Chittagong Metropolitan Police, which was investigating the case, sources told BenarNews.
The ballistics report revealed that the handgun had no chamber necessary to accommodate real ammunition, sources said, adding that the “pistol” could only eject rubber balls while producing a loud noise.
Mufti Mahmud Khan, director of the law and media wing of Bangladesh’s elite anti-crime task force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), had earlier identified the alleged hijacker as Mohammad Polash Ahmed.
Khan said Ahmed was listed in the police database and said the man had been arrested in 2012 on suspicion of involvement in a kidnapping case. He did not provide details on his allegations.
The ballistics report contradicted earlier accounts from one of the passengers and another witness interviewed by international news agencies.
In a gripping account published by the Daily Star, business-class passenger Kazi Masihur Rahman said the suspected hijacker left the plane’s economy class, sat in the front seat ahead of him, unzipped a backpack “and retrieved a handgun, a lighter and what looked like an explosive device.”
“He stood up, made his way to the front galley in front of the closed cockpit door and proclaimed, in English, ‘This plane has been hijacked! Open the cockpit door immediately. … I will blow out the plane if it’s landed,’” wrote Rahman, a former bank CEO in Dhaka.
“To prove his point, he fired his handgun once at the door of the unoccupied lavatory in the front,” Rahman said. “The smell of gunpowder filled the pressurized cabin air.”
The newspaper published what it described as an “unedited” witness account on Feb. 28, but added an editor’s note online on March 13, at the bottom of Rahman’s narrative, saying that the retired banker had “said that he was not sure if the pistol or the bomb were real or toy[s].”
Agence France-Presse had reported that another passenger saw the man “fire twice” while the plane was in the air.
“Just ten minutes after the plane took off (from Dhaka) he fired twice,” the passenger told reporters in Chittagong.
Hours after Ahmed died from his gunshot wounds, civil aviation authorities also cast doubt on official accounts that he was injured during an exchange of gunfire with special forces and that he had fired at the RAB officers first with a pistol.
“We don’t know if there was any exchange of gunfire,” Civil aviation ministry secretary Mohibul Haque told reporters.
An unnamed member of the crew told the newspaper Prothom Alo that Ahmed was carrying a bomb-like object and had threatened to “blow up the plane.”
Officials said Ahmed had asked to speak to Prime Minister Sheik Hasina before he succumbed to his injuries while on his way to a hospital.
Ahmed’s identity was confirmed by his parents, and residents of the village where he lived said he had a “bad reputation,” Mohammed Moniruzzaman, a police chief in Narayanganj outside Dhaka, told the Associated Press.
It was the first ever hijack attempt of any Bangladeshi aircraft, aviation officials said.
In September 1977, members of the communist militant group Japanese Red Army hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 472, which was en route from Paris to Tokyo with 156 people on board.
The plane stopped in Bombay, India, before the five armed hijackers ordered the pilot to fly the airliner to Dhaka. The hijackers released the hostages in several stages, before the plane finally landed in Algeria.