Sunday, December 04, 2011

Courting danger: Recounting ordeal in DGFI custody



SALEEM SAMAD

It was a late-night call. The caller told me in rustic English that they were coming to pick us up from the hotel. I had been commissioned by Channel 4 to help its crew working on the Unreported World programme. During our investigation in November 2002, we came to know that some terrorists were hiding in Dhaka. We wanted to interview them. The call was from one of their commanders. After an hour, a van arrived at the hotel.

We were blindfolded and driven around Dhaka to make us lose our sense of direction. Finally, we were taken into a building where we saw half a dozen men with AK-47s. We were asked to wait for the commander. After some time, a tall and broad-shouldered Arab fighter came to meet us. He refused to be photographed or interviewed and said he had kept his promise to meet us.

We were again blindfolded and then left in the middle of the city. On November 25, Zaiba and Bruno, two Channel 4 staffers who were with me, were arrested. I wasn’t with them that day. It was then that I realised that we were being followed by the military intelligence sleuths. A friend in the security establishment told me that we had committed a big mistake. He said the place where the terrorists hid was in fact a safe house of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) and the man we met was an al Qaeda commander. I couldn’t believe that the terrorists were protected by the agency which was supposed to arrest them. The news left me shocked and frightened. I knew we went too close to the story. We had blown a cover of the DGFI. By that time, DGFI men had surrounded my home.

I called my brother and said I would stay at a friend’s place. The intelligence agencies had tapped his phone and they heard our conversation. That night they raided my friend’s place and arrested me. I was brutally tortured for days. My interrogators wanted to know how much we knew about their safe houses and covert operations. Then, after 50 days in custody, I was released on January 18, 2003. I thought my ordeal was over. Hardly did I know that I would be forced to leave my country. After my release, a friend in the government told me that there was a plan to assassinate me. To save my life, I fled to Canada, where I got asylum.

First published The Week, December 3, 2011