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An unprecedented hate campaign against the Buddhist community raged through Ramu, a region known for its communal harmony for centuries until the night of September 29. Eighteen pagodas were damaged and about 50 houses burnt down in six hours of madness by Muslim zealots. Julfikar Ali Manik investigated extensively, only to find that the source of the shocking outrage was a faked facebook page.
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It was all faked.
The facebook page with an anti-Islam picture that provoked the September 29 rampage against the Buddhist community in Ramu was photoshopped.
Somebody or a group had taken a screenshot of Uttam Kumar Barua's facebook profile page, cut out the address of anti-Islam website “Insult allah” and pasted it on the address bar visible in the image.
Once the fabrication was done, it looked like “Insult allah” has shared the anti-Islam image with Uttam and 26 others.
The Daily Star showed the screenshot to IT and graphics experts.
The paper has become sure that it was a manipulation done to frame Uttam, who is a local Buddhist, and wreak mayhem that left 12 Buddhist temples burned to ashes and dozens of houses damaged.
A very innocent story was also cooked up about how Uttam's so-called facebook page came to public knowledge.
Omar Faruk, a youth of Ramu, claimed his friend Abdul Moktadir alias Alif, student of a private polytechnic institute in Chittagong, came to his mobile repairing shop in the evening of September 29.
According to Faruk, his friend signed in to his facebook account and made a scene finding Uttam's profile page bearing the anti-Islam photo.
Moktadir and Faruk claimed they had taken screenshots of the “profile page belonging to Uttam”.
The fabrication of screenshot could be the first part of the plan behind the mayhem and bringing rioters from outside Ramu the second part.
Why the plotters chose Uttam's profile is not clear yet. Uttam, an underprivileged assistant deed writer, has been on the run along with his wife and child since the night of the incident.
One thing is evident in the screenshot that someone called “Abdul Muktadir” had entered Uttam's profile though he was not a facebook friend. Uttam's profile was not restricted.
The facebook account of “Abdul Muktadir” is not accessible anymore.
But Faruk's friend who came to the shop in September 29 evening is registered at Chittagong Polytechnic Institute as Abdul Moktadir.
He was detained by police on October 9.
“My son is a very bright student. He got stipend when he was in school. He has hearing problem but his memory is very sharp,” said his mother Sajeda Begum at his house at Fakirabazar on October 6.
She refused to help The Daily Star meet her son Moktadir and repeatedly requested this correspondent to drop the idea of writing about the matter.
“He can fix mobile phone problems and he has very good computer knowledge as he studies computer engineering in Chittagong,” she said.
Talking to this correspondent on October 3, Faruk expressed annoyance as his help was sought to reach Moktadir.
He dropped out after class-IV, but he is skilled at repairing computers and mobile phones, he said.
Interestingly, his facebook account claims he studied at Ramu High School and Cox's Bazar Govt Collage.
He set up a shop three to four years ago at Fakirabazar in Ramu. Locally known as “Faruk's computer shop”, it is close to Moktadir's house.
Faruk denied link with any organisation or political party. Sajeda claimed the same about his son Moktadir.
Moktadir admitted that he was involved with Islami Chhatra Shibir when he was a student of class IX and X in 2008-09 at Ramu Khizari Adarsha High School, according to a police official.
Moktadir's mother also claimed nobody among their close relatives has any involvement in politics.
However, one of her brothers-in-law is Naikhangchhari upazila chairman of in Bandarban. His name is Tofail Ahmed, who doesn't hold any official post but locally everyone knows him as a Jamaat leader.
Tofail denied his involvement with Jamaat and said he was in Islami Chhatra Shibir, student wing of the party, when he was student of Chittagong University.
Surprisingly, Sajeda Begum, while giving names and brief profile of her close relatives to this reporter, mentioned the brother-in-law as Ali Ahmed.
But when her brother said it is Tofail Ahmed, she looked embarrassed but explained nothing.
Images in Faruk's computer
Some anti-Islam images were already stored in Faruk's computer at the shop.
Faruk claimed to this correspondent he and his friend Abdul Moktadir quickly created some image files with screenshots of Uttam's facebook account.
They did this as two strangers in his shop were unhappy seeing the pictures on their facebook, he said.
They saved the pictures after the strangers left, said Faruk, adding that they had to download some software to do it.
Faruk said they created the files to prove to the locals that the picture insulting the Quran did not belong to them and was from Uttam's profile.
He also added that Uttam's account suddenly disappeared within a short time after they saved the images. Faruk's claim was very confusing as no one else, except the account holder, can deactivate a facebook account.
And, moments after the departure of the two strangers, there was a continuous flow of people curious to see the pictures. All of them were shown images stored in Faruk's computer.
The people with no knowledge about social networking site facebook believed that was Uttam's facebook page with the anti-Islam image.
Faruk and Moktadir not only exhibited fabricated screenshots of Uttam's facebook profile, but also stored many pictures downloaded from “Insult allah” and the Quran-insulting photo, which was later circulated from mobile phones to mobile phones via Bluetooth.
In fact, there were significant anomalies between the claims of Faruk, Moktadir's mother and other local witnesses who saw the pictures at Faruk's shop.
Many locals got the images from Faruk and Moktadir on September 29 evening. They were local journalists, Faruk said, adding he does not know their names but would be able to recognise everyone.
Faruk on October 3 claimed that he could not give The Daily Star the images since the Ramu police have been keeping his computer since the night of September 29.
The Daily Star got those pictures, but from Nazir Hossain, owner of a local computer-training shop. He said the pictures were spread from Faruk's shop and after September 29, he collected those from locals.
Locals and a police official said these are the images they had seen on Faruk's computer.
Faruk claimed the picture in question appeared on his facebook page. Moktadir first saw it and then him.
But the collected pictures does not support Faruk's claim. The account of “Abdul Muktadir” was used while seeing Uttam's profile page and taking the screenshots.
If someone does not restrict his/her profile, every facebook account holder can view some information of that person. Otherwise, a brief restricted version of the profile is seen.
This correspondent failed to reach Uttam for a comment.
“www.facebook.com/Insultallahswt” appeared in the browser address bar of the profile page of Uttam, according to the screenshot taken by “Abdul Muktadir”.
But the image had clear signs of manipulation suggesting that “/Insultallahswt” was pasted there either to hide the real address or to convince people how bad Uttam was.
Even the information above the tagged picture on Uttam's profile --“Insult allah with Uttam Kumar Barua and 26 others” with a date of September 18 -- was similarly forged.
It was not possible to know whether this manipulation was done on Faruk's computer or it was put in his computer after making the images somewhere else.
Answers to these questions are locked in Faruk's computer seized by the police, said an expert.
WHO WERE THE STARNGERS?
According to Faruk, two men aged 23-24 saw “Uttam's facebook page” on his computer along with him and Moktadir.
Faruk had never seen the two before. Faruk was born and brought up in South Sreekul of Ramu.
Moktadir's mother Sajeda claimed that she heard that four customers in the shop made the hue and cry seeing the picture on Faruk's computer.
A person, who had seen the picture that night at the shop, requesting anonymity said being informed, he along with a few others went there around 8:30pm.
He did not find Faruk there; a boy unknown to him was showing the pictures. The “unknown nice looking” boy was also explaining to the locals the meaning of the picture.
“When the boy was giving me explanations of a picture, I told him not to explain and just to show the pictures.”
The Daily Star investigation found this unknown boy was Moktadir.