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Tahmid’s role, as recounted by an eyewitness

  • Published at 08:07 pm October 3rd, 2016
  • Last updated at 08:10 pm October 3rd, 2016
Tahmid’s role, as recounted by an eyewitness
Tahmid Khan survived an eleven-hour deadly siege on July 1 at the Holey Artisan Bakery in the diplomatic enclave in Gulshan in Dhaka that killed 22 people. Afterwards, he was held in police custody for three months until his release on bail Sunday night. Tahmid had been out that night meeting two friends for an overdue reunion after arriving the same morning from Canada. [caption id="attachment_19737" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Picture collected from Free tahmid Facebook page Picture collected from Free tahmid Facebook page[/caption] The Bangladeshi attackers were five young men. Three appear to be just like the hostages they killed, but with important distinctions: media hungry ISIS, who eagerly took credit for these attacks and who published photographs of the attackers, did not publish photographs of Tahmid. The five gunmen – three of whom were from affluent backgrounds – posed with guns in these photographs, and had been missing for several months prior to the attacks. But unlike the gunmen, Tahmid never disappeared, according to his best friend at the University of Toronto, Josh Grondin. Grondin last saw Tahmid on June 30, when Tahmid took a cab to say goodbye to his brother, en route to Dhaka from Canada. “Tahmid was excited to see his parents and couldn’t stop talking about his Unicef internship for the last two months,” Grondin recalls.
Also read- Police: Tahmid withheld info on terrorists
Grondin had booked a flight to Bangladesh to meet Tahmid’s parents on July 5. Instead he woke up the day after Tahmid left, to find that his friend was stuck inside the Holey Artisan Bakery. In a bid to maximise his short vacation time in Dhaka before starting a Unicef internship in Kathmandu, Tahmid met two friends for dessert at the now infamous café, the same night he landed. One of the friends, who spoke under the condition of confidentiality, relays that it was an impromptu decision of hers to go to the café, given its proximity to the third friend’s house, and because she was due home at 9pm. She was sitting with her friends in the lawn eating chocolate and hazelnut ice cream, when they heard loud noises – what initially appeared to them to be firecrackers. A gunman wearing baggy pants and a loose T-shirt came out and immediately shot at one of the foreigners in the table of five next to them. “Bhaiyya, don’t kill us,” the hostages shouted to the gunman. “Don’t worry, we are not here to kill Bangladeshis,” the terrorist said. [caption id="attachment_19738" align="aligncenter" width="333"]Picture collected from Free tahmid Facebook page Picture collected from Free tahmid Facebook page[/caption] This hostage kept looking at her watch, as the gunmen went around the lawn shooting each victim with rifles and pistols, before hacking them with machetes to ensure death. By 9pm, the gunmen were done with the majority of the killings. The hostages were ushered inside the restaurant at gunpoint, and the hostage horror began. The hostage confirmed previous reports that the gunmen had forced Tahmid to hold an unloaded gun during the night and they also took him upstairs with Hasnat Karim, another hostage who remains in police custody, charged with being an accomplice.
Also read- Gulshan attack suspect Tahmid gets bail
The purpose appears to have been to use Tahmid as a human shield in case the police tried to shoot the attackers. “Tahmid was crying when the gunmen asked him to carry a gun. I asked Tahmid after we got out: What happened when the terrorists took him upstairs? Tahmid said the gunmen made him hold an empty gun pointed to Hasnat Karim. They wanted to show the snipers that they still had hostages,” this hostage says. From a two-hour interview with this hostage, it seems the attackers had expected to face an early raid and were not prepared for a lengthy stand-off with police. After they had separated and killed the foreign hostages they were unsure what to do with those they spared. Chillingly, the gunmen seemed to enjoy the killings and joked about the events.
Also read- Gulshan attack: Police found nothing against Tahmid
According to this hostage, Tahmid is the hero of the ghastly siege, complying with demands because he was being threatened with death by the terrorists, but simultaneously using the terrorists’ twisted logic to plead for freedom. Evidently the attackers were ready to die themselves, but became restless in the morning waiting for the authorities. “The gunmen just wanted to fight the police. Tahmid explained to the gunmen that the police wouldn’t come inside, as long as they knew the gunmen had hostages. The terrorists did not think they would have hostages. You could tell by the fact that they didn’t seem to know what to do with us.”
Anita Khan is a New York-based human rights specialist, with over ten years of experience working for global justice issues. She has spent over four weeks interviewing people who were held hostage by the terrorists who attacked and killed 20 people at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Bangladesh. A version of this article earlier appeared in guernicamag.com.