The US government on Monday announced a large reward for information on the convicted fugitive

Locals in Moulvibazar say they have not seen sacked major Syed Mohammad Ziaul Haque, a death-row convict in the blogger Avijit Roy murder case, in the last 10 years.

His father has a caretaker to look after his properties at Mostafapur village, but he too has not visited the place in the last five years.

A key leader of outlawed militant group Ansar al-Islam, Zia has come under the spotlight once again after the US government announced a sizeable reward for any information on him.

The US Department of State, through its Rewards for Justice program, on Monday announced a reward of up to $5 million (~Tk42.8 crore) for information on two absconding convicts – Ziaul Haque aka Major Zia and Akram Hossain alias Abir.

The home minister on Tuesday said Haque and Abir were hiding abroad.

Since 2013, the al-Qaeda-inspired group has killed over a dozen secular activists across the country.

Earlier, the police declared a Tk20 lakh bounty on Haque’s head.

The announcement has unleashed a renewed storm of criticism against Haque in his hometown Moulvibazar.

During a visit to the infamous militant’s ancestral home in Mostafapur village on Tuesday, this correspondent was met with an eerie silence as two of the houses on the compound were under lock and key.

Photo shows the entrance of Ziaul Haque’s ancestral compound, Tuesday, December 21, 2021 Dhaka Tribune

Dhaka Tribune talked with the caretaker of the property, Noman Ahmed, who lives in a house located behind Haque’s home. Ahmed hails from Sarail upazila of Brahmanbaria and is a rickshaw puller by profession.

Ahmed said he had been looking after the property for 10 years.

“I have never met the major. His father, Syed Jillul Haque, was the one who gave me the job of taking care of the house. He lives in Dhaka’s Baridhara area. He came here once five years ago, but he does not anymore. We talk on the phone and he just pays the monthly gas and electricity bills,” he added.

“The major and I have never met or talked,” he reiterated, adding that police visited the home every now and then to ask about Haque’s whereabouts.

Locals Jabal Ahmed, Matin Mia and Abul Hossain say they have not met the sacked army major for many years, and do not know whether he is dead or alive.

The neighbours say they heard that Haque’s parents were under surveillance. Most of Haque’s relatives are living abroad and do not want to return home due to Haque’s actions, they add.

Haque passed his Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations from Uttara Holy Child School and College in Dhaka after he had left Moulvibazar for the capital with his parents. Then he completed his Higher Secondary Certificate examinations from Sylhet Cadet College.

He has a son with his first wife, who died of cancer, and two children with his second wife.

Haque’s cousin Syed Muzahid Lillah, who lives nearby, said he had not spoken to Haque for 10 years.

Nobody had ever imagined that Hauque could be involved in militancy or any other subversive activities, Lillah said.

Dhaka Tribune was also able to talk with Syed Jillul Haque over the phone. He said he and his wife had not visited his Moulvibazar home due to age-related complications.

“We do not have any contact with him [Ziaul Haque] or his family. We do not know how or where he is,” he told this correspondent.

Asked whether he was under any pressure from the authorities, the 72-year-old said he was too ill to continue the conversation.

Murder and conviction

On the evening of February 26, 2015, writer and founder of Mukto Mona blog Avijit Roy was hacked to death, while his wife Rafida Ahmed Banya escaped with serious injuries after unidentified assailants attacked them with sharp weapons near the TSC intersection on the Dhaka University campus as they were returning home from the Amar Ekushey Boi Mela.

Avijit’s father filed a murder case at Shahbagh police station the next day.

On February 16 this year, a tribunal in Dhaka sentenced five members of the banned militant outfit Ansar al-Islam to death and another to life term imprisonment in the murder case.

The convicts were Ziaul Haque, a suspected coordinator of the group, Abir, Mozammel Hossain alias Saimon, Abu Siddiq Sohel alias Sakib alias Sajid alias Shahab, Md Arafat Rahman. Each of them was also fined Tk50,000.

The tribunal also sentenced Shafiur Rahman Farabi to life imprisonment.

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