More than two years after machete-wielding militants massacred hostages at an upscale café in Dhaka, police filed the first charges in the case on Monday, accusing eight suspected Neo-JMB extremists of being involved in Bangladesh’s deadliest terrorist attack.
But police did not press terrorism charges against a British man, Hasnat Karim, who has been in custody for the past 23 months in connection with the July 1-2, 2016, attack. He was dining with his family at the Holey Artisan Bakery café on the night when five gunmen invaded it and took hostages.
“We have brought charges against eight terrorists. Six of them have been in custody and two others are fugitives,” Monirul Islam, chief of the Bangladeshi police’s counter-terrorist unit, told a press conference in Dhaka.
Police also said their two-year investigation had found no connection between the group that carried out the attack and foreign terrorist organizations including Islamic State (IS), which claimed responsibility for the café takeover.
“Today, we have submitted the charge sheet regarding the terrorist attack before the court. We detected the involvement of 21 Neo-JMB militants,” Islam said.
Not all of the suspects survived.
“Five terrorists carrying out the attack were killed in the commando operation. And eight others were killed in our pre-emptive operations,” Islam said, referring to a post-attack crackdown by police on militants nationwide.
In addition, police did not submit posthumous charges in the Dhaka court against two employees of the café who died of injuries suffered during the overnight siege and when police commandos stormed the bakery the next morning to rescue hostages.
On the night of July 1, 2016 – a Friday – five militants armed with AK-22 submachine guns, pistols and machetes stormed the café in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone. In all, 29 people, including 20 diners taken hostage, two police officers, the two employees and the five militants died as a result of the attack.
Seventeen foreigners were among the slain hostages. They included nine Italians and seven Japanese.
On Thursday, the court was likely to hear the case and accept the police’s “flawless and impartial investigation,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews.
Islam said Holey Artisan was a “premeditated organized attack of Neo-JMB,” an offshoot of Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) that has pledged its support to the Islamic State (IS). Khan and other government officials have repeatedly denied IS’s existence in Bangladesh.
‘He heard the news on the radio’
Police declined to release copies of the charge-sheet to reporters, but officials read out the names of the listed suspects.
Those facing terrorism charges under the nation’s anti-terrorism act are Jahangir Hossain (alias Rajib Gandhi), Aslam Islam (alias Rashed alias Rash), Sohel Mahfuz, Raqibul Islam Regan, Hadisur Rahman Sagor, Mizanur Rahman (alias Boro Mizan), Mamunur Rashid Ripon and Shariful Islam (alias Khalid). Ripon and Khalid are fugitives while the others are in jail.
Islam said he hoped the eight would get the maximum penalty under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act – either capital punishment or a life sentence.
He cleared Karim, the diner who has been jailed since August 2016, along with the two deceased café workers.
“We have not found any involvement of Hasnat Karim and two Holey Artisan employees, Saiful Islam Chowkider and Zakir Hossain Shaon,” Islam said.
Karim and his wife, Sharmina Parveeen, went to the café to celebrate the birthday of one of their daughters. Before government commandos stormed the building on the morning of July 2, the five attackers released Karim and his family.
Chowkider was found dead inside the café while Shaon was rescued by commandos and died at a hospital. Police ordered Karim’s arrest on Aug. 2, 2016.
Parveen told BenarNews that she went to the Kashimpur prison in Gazipur, near Dhaka, on Monday to see her husband.
“He heard the news on the radio that he was found innocent,” she said. “He asked me to go home and check media reports about it.”
She said she expected the court to order her husband’s releaser on Thursday when it hears the case against the eight suspects.
“Alhamdulillah (Thanks to God), the investigation exonerated him,” Parveen said.
13 dead suspects
The five attackers, Rohan Ibn Imtiaz, Nibras Islam, Mir Sameh Mobashwer, Khairul Islam Payel and Shafiqul Islam Ujjal were killed at the café.
Eight other suspected militants were killed in a counterterror crackdown that lasted for months after the attack. They were identified as Tamim Chowdhury, Nurul Islam Marjan, Sarwar Jahan (alias Manik), Tanvir Quadri, Bashruzzaman Chocolate, Mizanur Rahman (alias Chhoto Mizan), Zahidul Islam and Raihan Kabir. Islam described Chowdhury, a Canadian, as the attack’s mastermind.
Investigators said they found no links between the attack and foreign terrorist groups. Islam said the attackers aimed to “portray Bangladesh as a militant country and draw the attention of international terrorist groups for technology, weapons and funding.”
“If police could have caught the frontline leaders Tamim Chowdhury or Sarwar Jahan or Nurul Islam Marjan, they could have known for sure if Neo-JMB had any link with IS or al-Qaeda or Hizbut Tahrir,” Islam said. “Before his death, Tamim Chowdhury destroyed all electronic equipment and documents.”
He said Neo-JMB had begun planning to massacre non-Muslim foreigners five to six months before the attack.
“They checked different spots frequented by the foreigners, but they selected Holey Artisan two or three days prior to the attack as the place had no security system of its own. They thought they could escape from the scene easily,” he said. “Besides, the place was frequented by maximum number of foreigners, mainly on Fridays.”