They get ‘death sentence’ if they dare turn down the demand of the caller
The cell phone of a man, who owns a shop in the capital’s Kachukhet area, started ringing the moment he along with others was about to lift a coffin carrying the body of a fellow trader named Rubel.
As he received the call, he heard something that sent shudders down his spine.
“Rubel was killed by my men, now you are my next target. Get ready to die.” The caller who introduced himself as Shahin said in a chilling voice.
Only the night before, unknown assailants stabbed Shahjahan Rubel, owner of Raha Partex at Tamanna Complex in nearby Ibrahimpur, to death. His family members alleged that one top listed criminal Shahin Shikder, who has become a byword for terror in the area, murdered Rubel as he refused to give him extortion money.
About two months before the killing on October 31, Rubel had filed a general diary (GD) with Bhashantek Police Station, saying he had received death threats from Shahin.
Another local trader, Mizanur Rahman, was slain the same way just 15 days before Rubel’s murder. And a month before that, one more trader in the area, Abdur Rahman, survived a similar attack.
Every time after the incidents, fellow traders of the victims received phone calls. Every time the caller introduced himself as Shahin and then claimed credits for the attacks. He also reminded the traders of similar consequences if they turn down his demand for extortion money.
Talking to The Daily Star recently, several dozen traders, shop owners and people building homes in Ibrahimpur, Kachukhet and nearby areas said they received similar calls from numbers such as +194752, +123456789, 008801580249995, 008801537210700.
Many of them even paid the money.
“Since police seem to be doing nothing, I decided to give the money,” said a private service holder, who along with several partners are now constructing a building in that region.
Contacted, law enforcers said the calls were made using the internet and the illegal Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).
Bhasantek Police Station Sub-Inspector Mashiur Rahman, who investigated two GDs -- one filed by Rubel and the other by another trader -- admitted that they could not trace the location of the callers.
The locations appear to be different at different times, said police sources.
Once a petty criminal in Kachukhet and nearby areas, Shahin is said to have gone into hiding two to three years ago. He claims he now lives in Canada and operates a gang from there, according to some of the victims and law enforcers.
But Shahin is not the only one with this modus operandi. Many other listed criminals, including Shahadat Hossain, Subrata Bain, Noruttam Saha Ashik, Mehedi alias Kolinch and former Jubo League leader Ramjan, are demanding and taking extortion money from businessmen and traders in some other parts of the city, according to the police.
At times, the criminals make calls to businessmen through messaging apps like WhatsApp and IMO or Viber, they said.
Besides, former Banani Jubo League joint convener Yusuf Sardar Sohel alias Sundori Sohel, who fled the country after killing a youth on July 15 last year, is currently reorganising his gang members in the capital and demanding extortion money in a similar way, police and locals said.
He was using a number with the country code of Albania, police said, adding they were working to have him arrested.
Additional Commissioner of Detective Branch of Police Abdul Baten earlier said top criminals, hiding in the UK, the USA, Sweden, Malaysia and India, were running criminal gangs in Bangladesh.
Over a dozen people have been killed in the capital over the last two years by these gangs, while many had to pay extortion money to them by either hundi, an unauthorised way of transaction, or bank accounts.
These crimes have been continuing unabated for years as law enforcers cannot trace the criminals holed up abroad. Police seldom can arrest their local gang members, said their sources.
Fearing repercussion, many people do not dare to lodge any general diary or compliant against the criminals, the sources said.
Deputy Commissioner (north) of DB Mashiur Rahman has recently said some top criminals were running gangs hiding abroad and they kill people to establish supremacy in some areas from where they collect a huge amount in illegal tolls.
Asked about bringing them to book, the DB official suggested posting of police officers in Bangladeshi missions abroad to continue to persuade their counterparts to arrest the criminals.
Several hundred police officials of different countries are posted to Bangladesh to get “their job done”, he added.
Apart from these gangs, a group of petty criminals and local frauds, impersonating as top criminals, are also demanding extortion money from people.
Mufti Mahmud Khan, director (legal and media wing) of Rapid Action Battalion, has recently said those who were making the phone calls were frauds and using the name of the top criminals to frighten people.
Many of them remained out of the dragnet of law enforcers as they use mobile phone SIMs registered with fake identities.
Law enforcers said they were working to have the SIMs blocked, in an attempt to curb the crime.