President Donald Trump appears likely to deport a Bangladeshi military officer who was part of a notorious assassination team that murdered the country’s revered founder and nearly his entire family in 1975, Bangladeshi officials have told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Major AM Rashed Chowdhury was part of an assassination team that carried out a brutal, early dawn raid on Aug. 15, 1975, on President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s residence.
The major, along with the other assailants, were convicted in abstentia in 1998 — 23 years after the assassination. The conviction was upheld by the Bangladesh Supreme Court in 2009 and 12 officers were condemned to death. Six of the killers were executed a year later, but the others, including Chowdhury, remained fugitives overseas.
Chowdhury has been living in the United States since 1996 and applied for asylum. International law enforcement informed the U.S. government it was housing a political assassin in 2009.
“Unfortunately, one of the convicted murderers, Rashed Chowdhury, remains at large in the U.S,” Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin wrote in U.S. News & World Report in 2014. “That injustice must end. It is time for Rashed Chowdhury to come home.”
Chowdhury has lived in Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta and in various California cities, according to knowledgeable Bangladeshi sources who would talk only under the terms of anonymity for fear the former major would violently retaliate against them.
Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali and Ziauddin jointly confirmed to The DCNF that they have received encouraging signs the Trump administration will extradite Chowdhury to Bangladesh.
Both officials told The DCNF that meetings were held with the departments of State and Justice in July and August.
“With the coming of the Trump administration, our hope is at its peak,” Ziauddin told The DCNF. “[Trump] has been very clear about this issue.”
He said the Obama administration did nothing, despite repeated Bangladesh appeals for Chowdhury’s extradition.
Ali met with Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and other State Department officials on July 24 and 25. Ziauddin met with senior Justice Department officials on Aug. 1.
“As a matter of policy, the Department of Justice generally does not comment on specific extradition requests and we do not generally release specific case information,” the DOJ told The DCNF.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas added: “For guidance in your reporting, you may want to check back with the Government of Bangladesh.”
Ziauddin said Trump would be praised in Bangladesh if he sent the fugitive back to the south Asian country to face justice.
“I told [Attorney General Jeff Sessions] that if [Chowdhury] is sent back to Bangladesh, it will be a feather in [Trump’s] cap because he has kept his word,” he told The DCNF.
Ali told The DCNF his government assured the Trump administration that Chowdhury will be fairly treated if he is repatriated to Bangladesh, a parliamentary democracy.
“If this fellow is sent to Bangladesh, we are committed to allow him to review the judgement,” Ali said. “The state can appoint a lawyer, and he can make a submission to the ultimate Supreme Court. So he will get his chance.”
Ziauddin added: “Trump promised that all of the criminals who have come to this country and taken refuge will be sent back to their home country. This came as a very good news to us in Bangladesh because we thought that this is the administration that would take very firm steps to ensure that this killer, who is hiding over here on asylum, will be sent back to Bangladesh.”
The gruesome details about Mujibur’s assassination are well-known to Bangladesh’s citizens. A group of soldiers, including then-Major Chowdhury, murdered not only the president, but also 18 of his family members, including Mujibur’s wife; his three sons; two daughters-in-law, ages 19 and 24; his brother and brother-in-law; his nephew; and his nephew’s pregnant wife.
At one point the killers came upon the president’s 10-year-old son, who was hiding behind some furniture. “After finding Mujib’s youngest son, 10-year-old Russell, hiding behind a chair, they hauled him to an outdoor guard shack and dispatched him with a bullet,” according to an account by the Canadian news outlet Maclean’s.
Aug. 15 is recognized throughout Bangladesh as an official National Day of Mourning and is considered the “darkest” day in Bangladesh’s history, the Dhaka Tribune, a Bangladeshi news outlet, wrote.
Coup leaders hoped that murdering Mujibur would thwart the president’s plans to build Bangladesh into a secular state. The nation’s “constitution was amended through martial law proclamations to omit secularism from it and to replace secularism with ‘absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah,’” according to The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest English newspaper.
Just after the 1975 coup, the new ruling regime issued the Indemnity Ordinance, which gave the assassins immunity from prosecution, according to the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board.
Successive Bangladeshi administrations protected the assassins with diplomatic immunity by offering them jobs overseas at various Bangladesh embassies. Chowdhury was dispatched to Japan at the Bangladesh mission, according to Ziauddin.
Mujibur has been recognized as the hero in Bangladesh’s successful war against Pakistan for independence and is considered the nation’s founder.
One of Mujibur’s two surviving daughters, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, returned from exile nearly six years after her father’s murder to serve as the political leader of the Awami League, which her father founded. Hasina was elected prime minister in 1996, a position she currently holds, and called for her father’s murderers to be put on trial.
At Hasina’s request, the parliament nullified the Indemnity Ordinance and allowed trials to go forward.
Incoming California State University Bakersfield professor Abu Naser told The DCNF he was shocked when he saw Chowdhury at a 2015 social function in northern California.
“He knows he is a killer. I asked him to leave. All of a sudden he ran to his car and left,” Naser told The DCNF.
“I think this really gives a really bad signal about the United States, that a killer like him is enjoying a free life,” the professor told The DCNF. “I think it is a disgrace for the United States government and the people of America.”
Naser told The DCNF Chowdhury lives in Concord, California. Contra Costa County tax records show a Concord, California home is deeded to Rashed Chowdhury and his wife, Mumtaz Chowdhury.
Zillow estimates the four-bedroom, two-bathroom home’s market value at $589,000 and is described as featuring granite countertops and stainless steel appliances with an attached two car garage.
Chowdhury did not return a request for comment.
“It’s morally bad, ethically bad and its bad for our international relations to harbor a suspected killer who never had to face the charges. It’s just bad business,” an adviser to the U.S. government on development projects in South Asia, including Bangladesh, told The DCNF on the condition of anonymity because he doesn’t have permission to publicly speak about these issues.
“You should never circumvent legal processes in a sovereign nation, especially when it involves assassination,” the adviser added. “It’s not just a murder. It’s a special murder of a leader of a sovereign nation.”
The Dhaka, Bangladesh office of the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol, issued an alert to the Obama administration in 2009 requesting the U.S. government locate and provisionally arrest Chowdhury pending extradition.
“We have also sought help to trace the other fugitive killers for their deportation,” Hasib Aziz, the assistant inspector general of police in Dhaka and head of Interpol in Bangladesh, said, according to The Daily Star. “We have sent a letter to the [National Central Bureau] office in Washington, D.C., and another to the foreign ministry regarding deportation of Rashed Chowdhury.”
Interpol did not respond to a request for comment.
Ambassador Ziauddin told The DCNF he repeatedly met at the Obama-era Justice Department seeking an extradition of Chowdhury.
“I kept on meeting officials at the Department of Justice,” Ziauddin said. “Every month or every month and a half. It had been regular. All the time we were told it was still in the state of process. It stopped at the table of [then-Attorney General] Loretta Lynch and before she could go, she just left it as it is.”
A spokesman for the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington told The DCNF that there were many meetings where the topic of Chowdhury were raised.
He said on Oct. 5, 2011, that then-Foreign Minister Dipu Moni requested then-Secretary of State Clinton hand over Chowdhury. The foreign minister later raised the issue again during face-to-face meetings with Clinton in Washington on Oct. 10, 2011. Both Prime Minister Hasina and Moni further raised Chowdhury during a meeting with Clinton when she traveled to Dhaka on May 5, 2012.
They received no word from Clinton, according to the spokesman.
The Daily Star reported in 2015 that U.S Ambassador Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, who was stationed in Bangladesh, confirmed to the Bangladeshi government Chowdhury was living in the United States after securing political asylum.
“The U.S. has long been assuring Bangladesh to consider the extradition of Rashed, but it apparently suppressed the information that the killer had already been granted political asylum, diplomatic sources say,” The Daily Star reported. The U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals was involved in the granting of asylum to Chowdhury and his family, according to the news outlet.
It’s unclear when Chowdhury was granted asylum and under what terms. It’s also unclear why the Obama administration didn’t extradite the convicted murderer.
During the Bush administration the Bangladesh government discovered another member of the killing team living in the United States, Mohiuddin AKM Ahmed. He had lived for nine years in the United States.
The administration allowed him to be deported from Los Angeles and he arrived in Bangladesh on June 19, 2007 after a U.S. court rejected his appeal to stay.
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