Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir yesterday named seven suspects in the brutal murder of journalist couple Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi.
"The suspects have been identified through DNA tests at two special laboratories in the USA," he told a press conference at the secretariat.
The seven are Rafiqul Islam, Bakul Miah, Masum Mintu, Sayeed, two security guards of the couple's residence Palash Rudra Paul, and Humayun Kabir alias Enamul and the couple's “family friend” Tanvir, an official of an English medium school in the city.
Of them, the first four are now in jail in Dr Nitai murder case, while Palash and Tanvir under Rab custody and Humayun has been on the run.
Investigators of the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) identified the suspects, mentioned Alamgir. “The four were professional killers.”
He announced a Tk 10 lakh bounty on absconding Humayun, but did not disclose the motive behind the double murder for the sake of the investigation.
The Detective Branch (DB) had picked up Humayun, but freed him later as it did not find his involvement in the crime.
The minister also said driver Kamrul of slain physician Nitai was an accomplice of the suspected killers of the journalist couple.
Sagar, news editor at the private TV station Maasranga, and his wife Runi, senior reporter at another TV channel ATN Bangla, were killed in the wee hours of February 11 at their rented apartment in the capital's West Rajabazar.
Sources in Rab said they had collected the DNA samples of the four suspected killers of Dr Nitai and sent them to the USA to verify if their DNA profiles matched with the ones collected earlier from the crime scene of the Sagar-Runi murder.
An assistant professor at the National Institute of Diseases of the Chest and Hospital (NIDCH), Dr Narayan Chandra Dutta Nitai was stabbed to death by unknown assailants at his residence in the hospital compound in the capital's Mohakhali on August 23.
Asked whether the killers of the journalist couple had been hired, the home minister said, "We do not exclude the possibility, but we are looking at both the options."
He, however, did not elaborate on the other option.
Regarding the time frame for completing the investigation, the minister said the probe would end as soon as possible.
Earlier on September 25, Alamgir had expressed optimism about identifying the killers of the journalist couple by October 10.
Tanvir and Palash were arrested yesterday noon, Lt Col Ziaul Ahsan, director of the Intelligence Wing of the Rab, told this newspaper last night.
Tanvir was picked up from the capital's Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
The Rab official said as four of the suspects are now in jail in Dr Nitai murder case, the Rab would file prayers with the court for showing them arrested in the Sagar-Runi murder case.
In an immediate reaction to the home minister's disclosure about the Sagar-Runi murder probe, family members of the victims rejected outright the outcome of the investigation.
Talking to The Daily Star, Runi's younger brother Nawsher Alam Roman said, "We are not clear about the minister's claims. We don't believe the findings of the probe are true."
Asked about Tanvir, who is claimed to be a family friend of the journalist couple, Nawsher said, "We never knew anyone named Tanvir. How could he be a friend of our family? We first came to know about him from the Rab men and later from a few newspaper reports."
Nawsher is the plaintiff in the sensational double murder case.
Contacted, Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, president of a faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), said, “No arrests have been reported so far. But now the home ministry has said they have made progress in the investigation through arrest of some people."
He mentioned that the journalist community wanted to know the motive behind the killing. "The minister said four of the suspects were professional killers and they were hired for committing the crime. Therefore, we want to know who had hired them and why,"
He demanded the government send the case to a speedy trial tribunal for its quick disposal.
Rejecting the home minister's briefing about the Sagar-Runi murder probe, the BNP yesterday said the government has staged a new drama to hide the real criminals.
"The government wants to conceal the real reason and hide the culprits by arresting a few thieves. We have heard that some big fishes are behind the murder and reporting on corruption by some influential persons led to the homicide. But after a long time since the incident occurred, the government has caught a few thieves," senior BNP leader Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain told a rally in the city.
Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal organised the rally protesting the arrest of its President Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal.
The Sagar-Runi murder case was first transferred to the DB from the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar Police Station.
During the DB's investigation, the detectives had detained Mahfizur Rahman, Enamul Huq, Fazlul Huq, Md Halim and Abu Hanif on suspicion of their involvement in the homicide.
But the five were freed later when their DNAs did not match the ones collected from the crime scene.
The High Court on April 18 expressed its frustration over the DB's failure in identifying the killers and ordered the transfer of the case to the Rab.
On April 26, the elite force exhumed the remains of the journalist couple from Azimpur graveyard and collected viscera for forensic examinations.