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Bangladesh sentences seven Islamists to death over 2016 terror attack on foreigners in Dhaka cafe

Italians, Japanese and an American citizen among those killed in Bangladesh’s worst terror attack

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Wednesday 27 November 2019 08:23 GMT
The attack saw 20 hostages killed at an upmarket Dhaka cafe
The attack saw 20 hostages killed at an upmarket Dhaka cafe (Reuters)

Seven members of a banned Islamist group have been sentenced to death by a Bangladesh court for their roles in a deadly 2016 terror attack on foreigners in a cafe.

The assault on the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka, the deadliest terrorist incident in Bangladesh’s history, killed 22 people including Japanese, Italians, an American and an Indian citizen.

The five militants who carried out the attack were killed by Bangladeshi commandos, following a 12-hour siege in which hostages were murdered one by one.

The seven men convicted on Wednesday were guilty of planning the attack, providing guns, making bombs and murder, prosecutors said.

The trial at a special anti-terrorism tribunal involved eight defendants, all said to be members of the group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which seeks to establish sharia rule in the predominantly Muslim country.

One of the eight was acquitted, said public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan. As for the others, “[the] charges against them were proved beyond any doubt. The court gave them the highest punishment,” he said.

Witnesses said that after the ruling, the accused men in the dock in a packed courtroom looked defiant and shouted, “Allahu akbar” (God is great).

The Holey Artisan Bakery attack, on 1 July 2016, had profound repercussions for Bangladesh’s image as a safe place to do business, including in the vital textiles industry.

The assault began in the evening as many Bangladeshis would have been breaking their Ramadan fasts. The attackers entered the cafe and started “brutally” assaulting diners with sharp weapons.

Some were taken as hostages as police responded, and as the siege wore on the militants started torturing anyone who was unable to recite the Quran. Meals were provided overnight, but only to Bangladeshi captives.

By the time the army stormed the cafe at dawn, 20 hostages were dead, including nine Italians, the majority of them women. Two security officials were also killed, while 13 captives including one Japanese citizen were rescued.

The incident followed a series of smaller Islamist attacks that had targeted individuals deemed “enemies of Islam”, including intellectuals, secularists, activists and religious minorities.

The cafe itself has since reopened at a new premises, but the country is still viewed as having a high security threat by many foreign missions, including the British High Commission – located not far from where the attack took place.

At the time, the Isis militant group claimed the attack, but the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected this, saying that Isis had no presence in the country and the domestic group was to blame.

The full verdict was not immediately available on Wednesday, but Judge Mojibur Rahman said the men acted against the sovereignty of the country and its constitution in executing the plan for such a big attack in which foreigners had been targeted and killed.

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