Saiful Azam, a unique figure in the history of Bangladesh, fought in wars as a fighter pilot in three different countries: Jordan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
During the 1967 Six-Day War, he was the only pilot to have downed four Israeli aircraft.
The 80-year-old retired group captain died at his residence, local newspaper Jugantor said. He had been suffering from various old-age complications for a long time.
“He breathed his last at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka on Sunday,” Dr. Selim Azam, his younger brother told. “His funeral prayers were held at the Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) hangar in Tejgaon, Dhaka, in the afternoon.”
Bangladeshi army’s mouthpiece Inter Service Public Relation Directorate also confirmed the death to Anadolu Agency over the phone.
Pakistan Air Force Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan expressed heartfelt grief on the demise of the great war veteran, according to a press release by PAF’s media wing. The air chief paid rich tribute to Azam, saying that the former fighter pilot will always be remembered for his professionalism and his part in the 1965 Indo-Pak and 1967 Arab-Israel wars.
Describing Azam as the pride of Bangladesh, former chief of Border Guards Bangladesh, Major General Fazlur Rahman, said his name will remain a part of Bangladesh’s history.
“He is a source of inspiration for every soldier in the battleground on how to defeat the big enemy with limited weapons. He set a milestone in optimum use of skills and courage during war,” Rahman said.
Born in a remote area in Bangladesh’s central district of Pabna in 1941, he spent his childhood in the Indian city of Kolkata with his father. After the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, his family migrated to Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).
According to the South Asia-based analytical website Roar Media, Azam left home at the age of 14 for higher secondary education in then West Pakistan (now Pakistan). In 1958 he was admitted to Pakistan Air Force Cadet College, where he completed his education as a pilot officer.
Azam joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) as a Fighter Pilot in October 1960.
Top Gun pilot
Azam began his career with the Pakistan Air Force in 1960 after completing his training in the US where he was awarded the “Top Gun” title by the United States Air Force (USAF) at the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
Top Gun is also a riveting action film from director Tony Scott. The story follows a hotshot Navy pilot who’s sent to an elite fighter school to learn aerial combat tactics. Renowned Hollywood star Tom Cruise plays the character of Maverick in the film.
The man who downed four Israeli warplanes
On June 5, 1967, four Israeli jets were descending on Jordan’s Mafraq airbase to smash the country’s tiny air force, shortly after the entire Egyptian air force had been destroyed.
Jordanian air force commanders deployed Azam to thwart the attack, shooting down two aircraft. He was shifted to Iraq two days later to defend air bases, where he shot down two more Israeli planes.
Palestinians mourn Saiful Azam’s death
Palestinian activists are mourning the loss of Saiful Azam, 79, a Bangladesh fighter pilot who died of natural causes in the capital, Dhaka, on Sunday.
Azam, also a former legislator from Bangladesh’s mid-northern Pabna-3 constituency, was regarded as a legendary figure for Bangladeshi people, thanks to his record as an ace fighter pilot.
Azam’s heroic performance in the military field was also “highly appreciated by the Iraqi government,” with Jordan and Iraq recognizing him with their top honours.
Awards & achievements
In recognition of Azam’s contributions, he was conferred with military awards by Jordan and Iraq. Azam received the highest gallantry award from the King of Jordan.
The United States government also awarded him as one of the world’s 22 “Living Eagles” for his outstanding war skills and courage.
Legendary fighter pilot Saiful Azam, who was awarded Sitara-i-Jura’at for his heroics in the 1965 war against India, breathed his last in Bangladesh capital Dhaka on Sunday morning, according to officials and media reports.
Popular defence blog Fighter Jets World also recorded that after learning the fundamentals of aviation in Pakistan, Azam was sent for advanced air combat training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
During the 1965 India-Pakistan war he also downed an Indian warplane, encouraging Pakistani forces to stand against India with limited warfare tools.
The act was widely applauded in Pakistan, which awarded Azam Pakistani’s Star of Courage (Sitara-e-Jurat) medal, the third-most prestigious award of its military.
After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the veteran pilot joined the Bangladesh Air Force to serve his homeland. In 1980, he retired and joined the civil service and later took up a political career.
Azam served as CAAB chairman and was also a member of parliament from 1991 to 1996.