A Biman Bangladesh Airlines plane has made an emergency landing at the Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong following a reported hijacking attempt.
According to witnesses and airport officials, the plane, which was on its way to Dubai from Dhaka via Chittagong, landed at the airport around 5:40 pm on Sunday.
Unconfirmed reports say that a gunman had tried to take command of the cockpit, leading to the emergency landing.
While media reports said that all the passengers got off the plane after it landed, the gunman and two crew members were still on the plane.
Police and Rapid Action Battalion have cordoned off the area on the runway. Operational activities at the airport were also suspended.
Media reports said that all the passengers got off the plane after it landed, but the gunman and two crew members were still on it.
Civil Aviation and Tourism Secretary Mohibul Haque also told reporters that all passengers were evacuated from the aircraft, and a crew member was talking to the suspected hijacker.
Meanwhile, Chittagong 8 MP and leader of a Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction Moin Uddin Khan Badal, who was also on the flight, told Somoy TV that the hijacker had opened fire.
“He fired a shot. When the pilot pursued him, he said he wanted to talk to the prime minister,” Badal said.
A witness also said that they heard a gunshot when the pilots tried to stop the armed hijacker from entering the cockpit. The hijacker then claimed he was wearing a suicide vest and demanded a direct line of communication with the prime minister and senior government officials.
Mohibul said they were yet to confirm whether anyone was shot on the plane.
The man who allegedly tried to storm the cockpit of the Biman flight was killed in a commando operation at Shah Amanat International Airport in Chattogram after all passengers were evacuated safely.
The airport was closed after Flight BG-147 made an emergency landing at 5:41pm. The pilot had informed the control tower about the situation eight minutes prior to landing.
The Boeing 737-800, bound for Dubai via Chattogram, was carrying 143 passengers and seven crew members. It was immediately surrounded by members of the army, navy, SWAT and Rab while four fire engines were on standby.
According to an ISPR press release, the crew members tactfully took the passengers out of the plane while the suspect remained inside holding a cabin crew member hostage.
Several passengers claimed that one crew member was shot while another was injured during the evacuation. Officials, however, claimed that nobody was injured.
General Officer Commanding Maj Gen SM Matiur Rahman of 24th Infantry Division during a briefing after the commando operation, which was launched around 7:20pm, said the “so-called hijacker” wanted to talk to the prime minister and his wife.
Air Vice-Marshal Mofidul Haque, who was negotiating with the suspect from the control tower, said the suspect introduced himself as Mahadi, a Bangladeshi citizen in his mid 20s, during the conversation.
Later, the civil aviation ministry sources told this newspaper that the suspect, a Dubai expatriate Bangladeshi named Majidul Haq Mahadi, came to Dhaka on November 20 last year and was a passenger on the Dubai-bound flight.
“He [the suspect] did not intend to do any harm to any passengers … We kept him busy talking over the phone,” said Mofidul at the press briefing.
“The suspect had held the cabin crew hostage. At one stage of the negotiation, our air force members managed to bring them out.”
However, the ISPR release later said the alleged hijacker was able to hold a crew member hostage.
During the briefing, Maj Gen Matiur said a para-commando unit of the army, who was on another duty at BNS Issa Khan, was called in around 6:00pm.
“They launched an eight-minute operation in which the armed man was shot.”
The commandos were led by Lt Col Imrul, who was also at the helm of the operation that ended the Holey Artisan siege in 2016, he added.
“The commandos first asked him to surrender but he was aggressive. As he refused to give himself up and intended to attack, the commandos went for action and he got injured in the ensuing shootout.”
The ISPR release said the bullet-hit man was brought out and taken to an on-duty doctor, who declared him dead.
“The only demand he [the suspect] had made during the conversation was that he wanted to talk with the honourable prime minister and his wife,” Matiur said.
The official said they could not know what he wanted to say to the prime minister. “There was no scope to talk to him any further as we sought to end the incident within the shortest possible time.”
He added that they were worried that the suspect could harm the crew member onboard. “Our pilot initially thought him [the suspect] to be a foreigner but he was basically a Bangladeshi … He had a pistol. We did not find anything else in the plane.”
There was no damage to the aircraft and it was declared safe for takeoff after scrutiny, he added.
The airport was opened at 8:00pm, said Mofidul.
It remains a mystery how a passenger got onboard a plane with a weapon despite at least two tiers of body checking.
“We will investigate how he boarded the plane with a firearm,” said Air Vice-Marshal M Naim Hassan, chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh while briefing reporters at his office in Dhaka.
He said they had heard that the suspect had a jacket on with wires sticking out of it.
A probe committee will be formed to find out how it happened and whether anyone was negligent in discharging duty, he added.
Later at night, State Minister for Civil Aviation Ministry Md Mahbub Ali at a TV talk-show at a private television channel said he came to know that the hijacker was carrying a “toy gun”.
Besides, Commissioner of Chittagong Metropolitan Police Md Mahbubor Rahman said it was a “fake pistol”. Asked whether he saw it, the officer only said, “You can quote me on this. It’s a fake pistol.”
The civil aviation ministry in an updated press release in the early hours of today said it has formed a five-member investigation committee.
As of 10:00pm, several Chattogram-bound flights were stuck at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.