Extremists charged over Bangladesh cafe attack

DHAKA: Bangladesh police yesterday charged eight Islamist extremists over the savage 2016 attack claimed by Islamic State on a Dhaka cafe popular with Westerners that killed 22 people including 18 foreigners. Of the eight charged, “six have been arrested and two have absconded,” Monirul Islam, the head of Dhaka police’s counter-terrorism unit, told reporters.
“Their aim was to destabilise the country and turn the country into a militant state,” Islam said. Police said the eight face a maximum sentence of death by hanging under anti-terrorism laws. The brazen assault on July 1, 2016 saw five militants with assault rifles and machetes storm the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka’s well-heeled Gulshan neighborhood.

Nine Italians and seven Japanese were among the foreigners to be hacked or shot dead. Two policemen were also killed. Military commandos stormed the cafe after a 10-hour standoff and freed more than two dozen hostages. The attack claimed by the Islamic State group fuelled tensions over Islamist extremism in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

All five militants were killed when police stormed the cafe. Eight others-including mastermind Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, a Canadian of Bangladesh descent-were killed during raids in Dhaka and its suburbs months after the attack. They included commanders of a new faction of the homegrown extremist group Jamayetul Mujahideen Bangladesh.

One of the freed hostages, a British national of Bangladeshi origin named Hasnat Karim, was later detained by police over allegations he played a role into the attack. But Mohibul Islam Khan, counter-terrorism police deputy commissioner, said investigators found no evidence against Karim and his name has been left off the charge sheet. The government has repeatedly denied that international jihadist networks have a presence in Bangladesh. The IS-linked news agency Amaq however published extensive details of the attack, including photos from inside the cafe.

Monirul Islam said Rohan Imtiaz, 19, led the attack. Imtiaz had completed his A-levels at Scholastica, a school for the children of well-to-do families in Dhaka. The hostage crisis marked an escalation from a spate of murders claimed by IS and Al Qaeda of rights activists, gays, foreigners and religious minorities. It was seen as a major blow to the country’s image as a moderate Muslim nation. Dozens of atheist writers, publishers, members of religious minorities, social activists and foreign aid workers have been murdered in Bangladesh since 2013. – AFP

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