Bangla army probes coup plot

Dhaka: Suspecting involvement of more officers in the botched coup attempt earlier this month, the Bangladesh army has constituted five more "courts of enquiry" to probe the plot, officials said.

No official statement was issued on the development but a senior military official preferring anonymity said a decision was taken to constitute the five more "courts of enquiry" under Army Act to investigate into the putsch attempt at five cantonments outside Dhaka.

"The GOCs (General Officers Commanding) of these cantonments were asked to form the enquiry courts to probe into the suspected involvement of officers in those barracks to quicken the probe," he said without elaboration further.

His comments came as the mass circulated `Prothom Alo` newspaper quoting anonymous "military sources" said nearly two dozen officers were suspected to be involved in the abortive coup attempt while the army last week said their number could be as high as 16.

The army last week announced the formation of the first enquiry court in Dhaka with a Brigadier General as its head while the Alo report said the five new courts of enquiry were being constituted at cantonments at suburban Savar, eastern Comilla and Ghatail, northwestern Bogra and Rangpur.

"These officers were found to be in telephonic contacts with fugitive army Major Ziaul Haque," the key suspect of the plot, the report said.

The report came a day after Army Chief Gen Mohammad Abdul Mubeen apprised President Zillur Rahman about the ongoing probe when he called on him at Bangabhaban presidential palace.

The army at an extra-ordinary press conference on January 19 disclosed the abortive coup attempt saying the plotters, who included former military officers, wanted to topple ruling Awami League and they were linked to banned Islamist outfit Hizbut Tahrir and an expatriate Bangladeshi in London had a key role in hatching the plot.

But several newspapers later reported quoting unnamed "military sources" that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was their prime assassination target while they also wanted to kill the president and incumbent chief of army`s general staff Lt Gen Mainul Islam along with several others.

A massive manhunt was underway to arrest major Haque while a number of Tahrir activists including a doctor were arrested in the past one-week.

Earlier reports said the coup was planned for January 10 when an army major was detained as he took up the keys of a military armoury without "authorisation" but was restricted by officers and soldiers of the unit.

The plot was unearthed when fugitive Haque contacted a fellow major at northwestern Bogra Cantonment inviting him to join the planned putsch but instead he reported the matter to army headquarters sparking the intelligence alarm.

Bangladesh has long history of coups and counter coups while the country was under direct or pseudo military rules for over a decade, since August 15, 1975, when Bangladesh`s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed along with most of his family members.