A Rohingya day-laborer, who was in the room when gunmen killed prominent refugee community leader Muhib Ullah in southeastern Bangladesh, described in an interview with BenarNews how the intruders forced him and other eyewitnesses to the ground before they interrogated their target and shot him in cold blood.
Muhib Ullah, who was advocating for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees back to nearby Myanmar, was gunned down at close range after the intruders burst into his office at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar on the night of Sept. 29.
The 40-year-old eyewitness demanded a “transparent investigation” and “justice” for the death of the community leader who chaired the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, a group advocating for the rights of Rohingya, and who was known on the international stage.
The witness said he entered Ullah’s office while Ullah was talking with about a dozen other men about surging commodity prices, issues related to health services, and other crises affecting the Rohingya refugee community.
“A few minutes later, seven to eight armed men wearing caps and masks entered the room and said, ‘nobody move, stay where you are.’ They pointed a gun at me and told me to lie down on the ground and not to look at them,” the eyewitness recalled.
BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, has chosen not to reveal his identity for safety reasons.
“I heard them ask Muhib Ullah, ‘Why did you form groups in each block? Is it to send people to Myanmar?’”
The witness was referring to a seven-member team that the Rohingya leader had formed in the camps through the advocacy group he chaired, to motivate the refugees to support repatriation.
Almost immediately after the intruders asked the question, the witness said, “one of them fired three bullets at Muhib’s chest and Muhib fell to the ground.”
“Muhib tried once to stand up as he bled profusely from being shot. Then a gunman came back and fired two more bullets – one in the chest and another in the eye,” he said.
He said he could not run away because the gunmen had forced him and the other men to the ground and were blocking the exit.
The assailants then fled the scene. He said they wore t-shirts and three-quarter pants.
The witness has been living in fear since the night of the murder, he told BenarNews on Monday.
Muhib Ullah, 50, in his work as a leading champion for Rohingya rights, represented his community internationally, including in visits to the United Nations and the White House.
About 740,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims crossed into the southeastern Bangladeshi district since 2017 and have been sheltering here after fleeing a brutal anti-Rohingya offensive launched by the military in their home state of Rakhine.
Khin Maung, founder of the Rohingya Youth Association founder, said his group was planning to organize a protest demanding justice for Muhib Ullah.
“There is very little hope of getting justice. We want punishment of the real killers,” he told BenarNews.
In the wake of the killing, Bangladesh police have arrested five men as suspects connected to it, including four who were taken into custody during the past weekend.
Police have not released more details about the suspects.
“We are now interrogating them. There is no scope of sharing any more information about an under-investigation case,” said Kartik Chandra Paul, a sub-inspector for Ukhia police, who is investigating the case.
On Monday, Muhib Ullah’s brother, Habib Ullah, told BenarNews that none of the five arrested so far were among the men he saw fleeing the incident.
The younger brother was in his own house nearby and ran out when he heard the gunshots. He said he saw some people running out of his brother’s office.
“Now the police have arrested them, saying they might be involved in the murder,” he said.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told reporters he suspected that some “vested quarters” had killed the Rohingya leader because Muhib Ullah wanted to return to Myanmar.
“Our stand is very clear. Serious action will be taken against the people involved in the brutal murder,” Momen told BenarNews. “The police investigation will unearth the motive of the killing. Our authority will take stern action against those who have carried out the killing mission.”
His statement, which came out three days after the killing of the Rohingya leader, was the strongest one issued by a senior Bangladeshi government official. Momen issued the statement after international human rights advocacy groups and the U.S. State Department had called for a full and transparent probe into the killing.
When asked why it took officials so long to issue a strong statement about the killing of a prominent refugee on Bangladeshi soil, Momen replied that he could not speak about the killing immediately because he was traveling back to Bangladesh from Washington.
The minister declined to explain what he meant to say by “vested quarters” being responsible for the killing, but he said that many local and international groups were working on the Rohingya issue.
On Sunday, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, Bangladesh’s home minister, said that the situation in the Rohingya camps was stable, “but arms had been smuggled from Myanmar in the past to disturb the situation in the camps.”
“Foreign agencies might have a hand in the incident,” Khan told reporters in Dhaka, he said but without elaborating.
Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, supported the minister’s view, saying there was “a huge possibility” of Myanmar’s involvement in the murder.
“Myanmar always tries to make the Rohingya community leaderless. In recent years, Muhib has become a popular leader and represented his community in various international forums,” Ahmed told BenarNews on Monday.
The Myanmar Embassy in Dhaka did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request to respond to the Bangladeshi minister’s allegation.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.