A Bangladeshi minister on Monday identified a suspected hijacker who was killed by commandoes the day before, but did not release information about a motive nor confirm reports that the man on the plane had a fake gun.
The Bangladeshi suspect had studied at a local madrassa, or Islamic boarding school, said Mahbub Ali, the state minister for civil aviation. However, Ali and other officials did not confirm or rule out whether the man who allegedly hijacked Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight on Sunday had terrorist links.
“What we have come to know is that the so-called hijacker’s name was Md Polash Ahmed. He hailed from Sonargaon in Narayanganj,” Ali told a press conference at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka.
“We have been investigating the incident. Unless we finish it, we cannot determine what motivated him,” Ali told BenarNews.
Ahmed’s father, Piyar Jahan Sardar, said he refused to claim his dead son’s body, telling Benar that the 28-year-old Ahmed had been undisciplined since childhood but recently started praying five times a day.
“I thought he changed positively, but on Friday he told us that he was going to Dubai to work as a migrant worker. This is really frustrating for us all,” Sardar said.
The Biman Boeing 737-800, which carried 148 passengers and crew, was traveling from Dhaka to Dubai via Chittagong, where Ahmed was shot dead during a standoff with security forces, after the airliner landed in the southern Bangladeshi city and most of those on board evacuated the plane. No one else was reported killed or injured.
A civil aviation official who was not authorized to discuss the hijacking, said flight BG147 took off from Dhaka after 5 p.m. Sunday. Ahmed, who identified himself as “Mahadi,” rushed to the front of the plane and tried to pry open the cockpit door.
Ahmed threatened to blow up the plane unless he was allowed to talk to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and to his wife, the anonymous official said.
The pilot did not open the cockpit door, but passed an urgent message about the hijacking to air traffic control. The flight made its scheduled landing at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong at 5:41 p.m. There, the other passengers fled the plane through the emergency exits, the source said.
The hijacker held one crew member hostage who was freed before commandos began their operation, according to the source.
Shortly after the hijacking was declared over on Sunday, Maj. Gen. S.M. Matiur Rahman, the army commander in Chittagong, told reporters that the hijacker had a pistol and refused to surrender. After about two hours, commandos stormed the plane, shooting and injuring the hijacker who died while being dragged out.
But the gun used by the suspect was fake, Chittagong Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mahbubur Rahman told reporters later on Sunday.
Ali, the state minister for civil aviation, could not confirm Mahbubur Rahman’s statement.
“I do not want to make any comment on the police statement that he carried a fake gun. But what I can assert is that, given the airport security in place, it is not possible for a passenger to take a pistol inside an aircraft,” he said Monday.
“The passengers had two destinations. Some were headed for Chittagong and some for Dubai. So, some passengers boarded through the international gate and some through the domestic terminal,” Ali told BenarNews. “He boarded the flight as a domestic passenger.”
Speaking to BenarNews on the condition of anonymity, an official in charge of security at the Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka said international passengers would be required to pass through a three-stage security check before boarding the flight. The domestic passengers, on the other hand, would go through a two-layer security system.
“All international passengers are confined to the gate through which they either board the flight or they are carried to the plane by specially protected buses. But for the domestic passengers, they enjoy some freedom,” the official said.
“After the second security screening, the passengers are not strictly confined to the terminal. So, the hijacker could have exploited the relaxed security.”
Meanwhile in Dhaka on Monday, an opposition MP questioned Ali about the airport security system.
“We have to undergo security checks four times before get on board the plane. How can a person enter an aircraft with a pistol? We cannot take this issue lightly,” said Rustum Ali Faraji, a lawmaker from the opposition Jatiya Party.
He said the government should form an all-party committee to investigate the hijacking incident.
“We have constituted a five-member probe body headed by an additional secretary,” Ali told the MPs.
‘A serious crime’
Piyar Sardar, Ahmed’s father, said his son had completed his secondary education in 2011 and enrolled at the Sonargaon Degree College in Narayanganj, in central Bangladesh, but dropped out before finishing.
Ahmed went to Dhaka and got involved in the film industry, where he married an actress, his second wife, in 2017, the father said.
“He did not maintain connections with us. On Feb. 1, he came to our house and stayed with us. I saw some changes in his attitude. He started praying five times a day,” Sardar told BenarNews.
“My son has committed a serious crime. I do not want to take his body.”