It was just another Ramadan evening at the Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, 2016. The Western-style café in the posh neighbourhood of Gulshan-2 had a thin crowd after the break of the day’s fast. But guests started arriving at the two-storey eatery, a favourite for expatriates and Bangladeshis alike.
The number kept rising as the diners ordered pizzas, pastries, and coffee. The restaurant became busier around 8:00pm. A group of Italians and another group of Japanese were among the foreigners who were seated at tables; a few Bangladeshis were also dining. None, however, had any idea the horrors awaiting them.
The diners heard a loud noise that resembled a firecracker around 8:45pm. Five young people with weapons like machetes, grenades, and semi-automatic rifles stormed the restaurant while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and began shooting randomly.
The silence was shattered by shrieks and screams. The terrified and bewildered diners hid under tables as the restaurant staff scurried for safety. Holding the diners hostage, they sorted out non-Muslim targets by a grim test of reciting verses from the Holy Quran.
The worst-ever hostage crisis of the nation unfolded. It wasn’t until the next morning, around 12 hours later, that para commandos broke the siege, killing the five attackers and a chef. At the scene, they found evidence of mindless butchery, with the restaurant’s floor smeared in blood and strewn with bodies. Amidst the cruelty that shook the country to its core, a young man — aged only 20 — stood out as an example of courage, friendship, and humanity.
Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, who went to the restaurant to meet his friends, could have walked free but refused to abandon his friends, choosing to stay with them even in the face of terror and death.
Faraaz, a student of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and his friends Abinta Kabir, a US citizen of Bangladesh origin and of the same university, and Tarishi Jain, an Indian and a student of the University of California, Berkeley, were among those killed.
Carried out by IS-inspired outfit, known as Neo JMB, formed by a faction of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), the attack served as a wake-up call for the government and triggered a massive hunt for militants and crackdown on terror networks. Law enforcers succeeded in busting a number of militant dens through counter-terrorism operations. The mastermind of the attack — Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-origin Canadian — was killed during one such drive on August 27, 2016.
Tamim spearheaded the Neo JMB after coming to Bangladesh in 2013 and took charge as its chief in 2015. On July 11 that year, his group joined mainstream JMB leader Sarwar Jahan Manik’s group. Sarwar was also killed in a drive on October 8, 2016.
Since the café attack, law enforcers carried out more than two dozen anti-militancy operations at dens where at least 79 militants were killed and a huge quantity of explosives were destroyed or seized. Following the massacre, a case was filed with Gulshan police under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
On November 27, 2019, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka sentenced seven militants to death for their involvement in the attack, terming it a disgraceful attack aimed at assassinating the non-communal character of Bangladesh.
“Through this disgraceful attack, an attempt was made to assassinate the non-communal character of Bangladesh. Foreigners here suffered from a sense of insecurity. The positive image of Bangladesh, known for peace and harmony, was tarnished a bit,” said the court in its verdict.
The High Court has started hearing of the death reference and appeals of the case in May this year. The hearing is expected to be completed in the next few months, and the HC will then deliver a judgment.
Death sentences of 7 militants commuted to imprisonment till death
The High Court today commuted the death sentences of seven jailed militants in the Holey Artisan attack case to imprisonment till death.
The convicts are – Jahangir Hossain, Aslam Hossain Rash, Hadisur Rahman, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Md Abdus Sabur Khan, Shariful Islam Khaled, and Mamunur Rashid Ripon.
The bench of Justice Shahidul Karim and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman passed the order today.