Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET on 2018-12-04
A policeman said he heard grenades explode after militants took over a Dhaka café in Bangladesh’s deadliest terrorist attack, as testimony began Monday in the trial of eight men accused of being connected to the July 2016 siege.
Sub-Inspector Ripon Kumar Das, who was the first witness to take the stand before a special anti-terrorist court, was one of the first responders to reach the Holey Artisan Bakery, where militants took hostages and killed 20 of them – nine Italians, seven Japanese, and one Indian and three Bangladeshis.
“After receiving a message on the wireless set, I reached the spot in 10 minutes. I saw the militants firing and throwing grenades while shouting ‘Allahu Akbar,’” Das testified about the early moments of the July 1, 2016 attack, using the Arabic for “God is Great.”
He said two on-duty police officers were killed after he reached the café, adding that at least 30 other people were injured.
“The militants carried out the attack to mar Bangladesh’s solidarity, public safety and sovereignty, and to tarnish the state image overseas. They attempted to create panic among people,” Das testified.
“They took over 50 people hostages and killed 22 people, including two police officers, by stabbing, slaughtering and shooting in cold blood,” he said.
The extremist group Islamic State claimed that five of its Bengali members carried out the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities blamed it on Neo-JMB, a faction of a home-grown militant group.
The trial began on Nov. 26, when the tribunal indicted eight suspected militants including two fugitives on charges of conspiring and aiding in a deadly terrorist act. The prosecution submitted names of 211 witnesses of the Holey Artisan attack.
Six defendants – Jahangir Hossain (alias Rajib Gandhi), Aslam Islam (alias Rashed alias Rash), Sohel Mahfuz, Raqibul Islam Regan, Hadisur Rahman Sagor and Mizanur Rahman (alias Boro Mizan) – were brought to court from Kashimpur prison. The other two defendants, Mamunur Rashid Ripon and Shariful Islam (alias Khalid), have absconded.
They could face the death penalty, if convicted, although none were in the café at the time of the attack.
Faruque Ahmed, a lawyer for two of the suspects, Aslam Islam and Raqibul Islam, cross examined Das.
“My clients’ names were included in the charge-sheet as scapegoats,” Ahmed told journalists.
Police, lawyers, journalists and other people crowded the courtroom to hear the testimony.
Abdus Salam, the father of defendant Aslam Islam, attended the trial and said his family had lost contact with his son.
“I live in Naogaon. My son used to study in Rajshahi. We had no contact for one year before the Holey Artisan attack. I went to the police station to report it, but the police did not record my complaint,” Salam said.
An earlier version reported incorrectly that the prosecution had submitted names of 111 witnesses.