COVID Lockdown Overshadows Fifth Anniversary of Bangladesh’s Worst Terror Attack

Sharif Khiam
COVID Lockdown Overshadows Fifth Anniversary of Bangladesh’s Worst Terror Attack Twenty-four people were killed in the July 1, 2016 attack in Bangladesh, including seven Japanese citizens whose photos BenarNews was unable to obtain. They were Yuko Sakai, Rui Shimodaira, Makoto Okamura, Hideki Hashimoto, Nobuhiro Kurosaki, Hiroshi Tanaka and Koyo Ogasawara.
[Handout photos/BenarNews Graphic]

Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of Bangladesh’s worst terror attack but there was no public remembrance of it or the 24 victims on the day itself due to a complete shutdown of the country amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

On the eve of the anniversary, the envoys of four nations and the European bloc paid homage to the dead at the former site of the Holey Artisan Bakery café where the attack took place, because they did not want to violate the lockdown starting Thursday, said Sadat Mehdi, the restaurant’s owner.

“We could not observe the day today due to the government lockdown. The diplomats did not want to flout the government order, and they showed respect to the victims one day ahead,” Mehdi told BenarNews.

"I will never forget that day."

The envoys of the European Union, India, Italy, Japan and the United States placed wreaths at the site of the former café site, where Mehdi and his family now reside, and where Mehdi’s wife runs a clinic.

“[W]e renew our commitment to fight against religious extremism and terrorism,” the Italian embassy said on Twitter, along with photographs showing the five Dhaka-based envoys at the site.

The city’s police commissioner also did not make it to the attack site on the anniversary, Mehdi said.

“The commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police was supposed to come today [July 1], but considering the worsening coronavirus situation, he refrained from visiting [the site],” he said.

Earlier in the week, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said he would not be able to attend because of the start of the lockdown that coincided with the somber anniversary.

“We cannot forget this tragic event,” he told BenarNews.

The café has since moved to another location in Dhaka, away from the site in the capital’s tony diplomatic quarter where the attack occurred.

On the night of July 1, 2016, five members of Neo-JMB, a Bangladeshi militant group aligned with the so-called Islamic State, slaughtered 20 diners when they took over the Holey Artisan Bakery. They separated Muslims from non-Muslims and killed mostly the non-Muslim hostages, hacking many of them to death with machetes, the authorities had said.

Nine Italians, seven Japanese, 6 Bangladeshis including two police officers, one Bangladeshi-American, and one Indian were among the victims.

The five attackers, young men who came from well-off Bangladeshi families and who attended some of the country’s most prestigious schools, were killed when police commandos launched a raid on the morning of July 2 to break the siege.


A Dhaka Metropolitan Police officer places a wreath at a monument to police officers slain during a terror attack five years ago, near the site of the Holey Artisan Bakery café in Dhaka, July 1, 2021. [BenarNews]

In a statement on its Facebook page, the United States embassy in Dhaka remembered an American victim and a Bangladeshi who had attended university together in the U.S.

“We remember Abinta Kabir, a U.S.-Bangladeshi dual citizen and student at Emory University, as well as her Emory classmate Faraaz Hossain, who even when given the chance to save himself chose to remain with his friends,” the statement said.

Surviving witnesses said Faraaz Hossain refused to leave other hostages behind when the gunmen said Muslims could leave the café.

On Thursday, the director general of the police’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force, Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, placed floral wreaths at a monument erected near the café’s old site to commemorate the two police officers who were killed while trying to stop the militants.

In Washington, America’s top diplomat paid tribute to the victims of the attack.

“The United States stands with the people of Bangladesh on the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, resulting in the deaths of 20 people, including one U.S. citizen,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Thursday.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims. …We commend Bangladesh’s efforts to bring those responsible to justice and recommit to our strong counterterrorism partnership to prevent future attacks.”

Meanwhile, most Bangladeshis stayed home on Thursday, with the army and police out in force to ensure people leave their homes only for emergencies, as the country went into a week-long complete shutdown to combat an alarming rise in COVID-19 infections.

The Dhaka police said in a press statement that they detained close to 500 people – arresting 258 of them – in the capital for flouting the restrictions.

The country reported a record 143 virus-related deaths, as the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 pushed new infections above the 8,000 mark on Thursday.


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