Bangladesh: Briton, Canadian Student Arrested as Suspects in Café Attack

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160804-BD-arrests-620.jpg Bangladesh police escort Hasnat Karim (wearing glasses), and Tahmid Hasib (striped shirt), into a Dhaka court to face charges related to July 1 Holey Artisan Bakery café attack, Aug. 4, 2016.
Focus Bangla

Bangladeshi authorities Thursday announced the arrests of a British citizen and Canadian resident as suspects in the Dhaka café terrorist attack, although they earlier had denied claims from relatives that police, in fact, had arrested the pair weeks ago.

Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Hasib Khan were inside the Holey Artisan Café during a July 1 terrorist siege that left 20 hostages dead, including 17 foreigners. They were among people taken captive there, according to early reports, but police have officially accused the two of playing a role in the attack.

Back on July 14, Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman said that the department had released the two men on July 8 after questioning them, and had no information on their whereabouts. However in mid-July, two other police sources told BenarNews that the authorities were holding the pair for questioning in mid-July.

“We [cannot] announce that they are [still] in our custody. If we declare this, we must present them before a court in the next 24 hours. But we need to interrogate them further,” one of the sources told Benar then on condition of anonymity.

Karim and Khan were arrested on Wednesday night from two neighborhoods in Dhaka, under Section 54 of Bangladesh criminal code which allows the police to arrest anyone on suspicion, Masudur Rahman said Thursday.

As part of the evidence cited in a statement that was read out at a Dhaka court, where the two men were brought Thursday, a mobile phone app that was downloaded on Karim’s phone 10 minutes after the attack began, was used to send gory pictures of people who had been hacked to death inside the café by the terrorists. Those pictures were disseminated by Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack, authorities alleged.

The court granted police an eight-day remand to interrogate Karim, a British passport holder and a former professor at North South University in Dhaka, and Khan, a student at the University of Toronto.

Police had sought a 10-day remand, but Judge Nurunnahar Yasmin cut it to eight. Karim’s lawyer, Sanwar Hossain Samaddar, and Khan’s lawyer, Motiur Rahman, opposed the remand request, arguing that their clients had been in police custody for more than a month.

“So no more remand is needed,” Samaddar told the judge.

Under suspicion

Amid tight security on Thursday, members of the police’s counterterrorism and transnational crimes unit brought the men to court around 3 p.m. A police sub-inspector, Ronop Kumar Bhakta, read a statement alleging that Karim and Khan had suspicious roles in the attack.

The prosecution described Khan as an aide to Karim.

Earlier, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews that bloody photos of the victims were sent from Karim’s mobile phone.

Amaq, the Islamic State’s (IS) official news agency, ended up posting the pictures several hours before commandoes stormed the cafe on the morning of July 2, killing five militants and ending the standoff.

Police claim that Karim and Khan are suspects because they were not tortured and were allowed to leave.

Karim’s family said the attackers allowed him to go because he did not misbehave and was able to recite verses from the Quran. According to news reports, the attackers segregated non-Muslim hostages from those who could recite Quranic verses, and killed most of the ones who could not recite them.

Karim’s family also claims that militants took his phone to post the pictures, according to media reports.

Samaddar called Karim a victim of circumstance.

“He went to the Holey Artisan café to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. If he was involved in the killing, he would not take his wife and daughters there,” Samaddar said.

Attorney Motiur Rahman said Khan was innocent, and had gone to the cafe to meet friends.

“If police had specific proof of his complicity, they could have presented it in the court. Why should he be arrested as a suspect under section 54 if police had proof?” Motiur Rahman said.

Amnesty International reacts

Rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI), which had questioned last month why the men were presumably being held by police, responded Thursday to the action taken in court against them.

“While it is a positive step that Hasnat Karim and Tahmid Khan have been produced in court and formally arrested, the Bangladeshi authorities must now ensure that their rights in detention are being met, including access to a lawyer of their choosing, their families and any medical attention they may require,” The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, quoted AI as saying on Thursday.

“We call on the Bangladeshi authorities to charge them promptly with a recognizable crime, in line with international law and standards, or else release them. There must be justice for the victims of the horrific attack in Dhaka, but Bangladesh must ensure that human rights are now not sacrificed in the name of national security,” Amnesty added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) last month had voiced concerns about the whereabouts of the two men, who were then presumed to be in police custody.

“Karim and Khan have not had access to a lawyer, and the police continue to deny holding them, although they are clearly still being held by the Detective Branch. The authorities need to either charge or release them immediately, Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement issued July 15.

Officials at the Canadian High Commission in Dhaka could not be reached for comment Thursday, but an official at the British High Commission told BenarNews on condition of anonymity that it was communicating with Bangladeshi authorities over Karim’s case.

Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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