The original building was locked down by the owners, only open to mourners on the anniversary of the attack who came to pay their respects. Akash now serves as a chef at the bakery after it reopened
It has been over three years since a brutal attack on a café in Dhaka’s upscale Gulshan neighbourhood shook the nation. The Holey Artisan Bakery and Café was stormed by five men on July 1, 2016, who brutally slaughtered 23 people, including 17 foreigners.
The casualties alone were staggering for a country like Bangladesh, and the terrorist group Islamic State claiming responsibility only further raised the significance of the attack. The bloody attack led to a thorough crackdown on militancy by security forces. And after over three years of raids, investigations, interrogations, witness testimonies and more, a court is set to announce its verdict in the terrorism case filed for the attack.
Umme Salma, widow of Assistant Commissioner Rabiul Karim from the Detective Branch of the police – who died attempting to rescue the hostages - demanded the punishment be as rigorous as possible to deter future crimes.
She also demanded that families not only receive verbal recognition, but written recognition from the government.
AC Rabiul's mother Kamrunnessa Begum said: "I want this verdict to be a historic one. Through this verdict, I want the government to show the world the consequences of brutal murders."
Akash Khan, a staff member at the bakery, among the hostages rescued the next day by army commandos, said: “The memory of that night still haunts me. I still shudder when I remember the gruesome events.”
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The café was shut down after the attack, and later moved to a different location. The original building was locked down by the owners, only open to mourners on the anniversary of the attack who came to pay their respects. Akash now serves as a chef at the bakery after it reopened.
“This led many foreigners to say that Muslims are militants, but this is not true. The verdict shall ensure maximum punishment for the offenders to set an example,” Akash said.
Among the victims, Saiful Islam Chowkidar, a pizzaiolo at the bakery, was shamed following his death. Though considered the first to be attacked, following his death during the rescue operation, police claimed he was involved in the attack. But later investigations failed to link him to the plot.
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His sister Moyna Begum told Dhaka Tribune: “My brother was not a militant. We want the government to publicly announce this and financially support us because his death has left us in dire straits.”
Verdict against eight JMB men on Wednesday
After the hearing concluded on November 17, Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka announced the verdict would be delivered on Wednesday.
One of the defence lawyers, Md Delwar Hossain, said: “The prosecution failed to prove the charges against our clients in the case, so they should be acquitted.”
However, Public Prosecutor Md Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir sought maximum punishment for all the accused in the case, claiming that all charges had been successfully proven.
113 out of 211 prosecution witnesses, including several eyewitnesses, testified before the court in the case.
The trial began on November 26, 2018, after charges were framed against eight militants.
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According to the charge sheet submitted by the investigating agency – the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC) of Dhaka Metropolitan Police – there are eight accused of being members of the banned militant outfit Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
The accused are Rashed alias Rash, one of the planners; Jahangir Alam alias Rajib Gandhi, recruiter of the café attackers; Sohel Mahfuz, supplier of grenades; Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan and Hadisur Rahman Sagor, suppliers of arms; Rakibul Islam, a religious trainer; Shariful Islam Khaled, and Mamunur Rashid Ripon.
The investigation found the attackers had been preparing for six months with two goals: to destabilize Bangladesh and to attract the attention of international terrorist groups.
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In the course of the investigation, the CTTC found 21 militants involved with the café attack. Of them, five attackers—-Nibras Islam, Mir Sabeh Mubashir, Rohan Imtiaz, Khairul Islam Payel and Shafiqul Islam Uzzal—-were killed in the commando operation that ended the siege.
Eight others including the mastermind Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, café attack coordinator Nurul Islam Marzan, a top operative of mainstream JMB, financier Sarwar Jahan, trainer Major (retd) Jahidul Islam, software engineer Basharuzzaman Chocolate, top JMB operative Abu Raihan Tari,; banker and financier Tanvir Kader,; and grenade supplier Mizanur Rahman alias Chhoto Mizan, were killed later in different anti-militancy operations.
CTTC Chief Monirul Islam said the matter of a foreign link with the attack could only be known if the suspects were captured alive, but from the militants in custody and evidence found, no direct contact with foreign countries could be established.
He said the deaths of the attackers made it very difficult for police to shed light on the crime, as those who were directly involved were killed on the spot, he added.
“We think we have named everyone involved in the Holey Artisan attack from planning to execution. We have tried our best to prove their crime in courts with evidence and expect a satisfying verdict.”
Our Manikganj correspondent Motiur Rahman contributed to this story