A Dhaka court yesterday sentenced seven militants to death for their involvement in the 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack, terming it a disgraceful attack aimed at assassinating the non-communal character of Bangladesh.
The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal acquitted one accused as it found him not guilty in the atrocity that left 22 people, including 17 foreigners, dead in the capital’s Gulshan.
The judgment came more than three years after the country’s deadliest café siege which, according to the court, was aimed at endangering public safety and drawing attention of the international militant organisation IS.
The grisly attack followed a spate of target killings of bloggers, writers, members of religious minorities and foreigners over a span of several years.
The siege that drew global condemnation warranted a massive crackdown by law enforcers on terror networks in the Muslim-majority country with secularism as one of the four basic principles of the constitution.
“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 Judge Md Majibur Rahman.
“In regard to punishment, the accused don’t deserve compassion or sympathy. Only the handing down of the highest punishment to the accused under the Anti-Terrorism Act 2009 will ensure justice, and relatives of the ill-fated victims will get some peace,” Majibur said while reading out the summary of the full verdict in a packed courtroom.
Five young militants, armed with guns, machete and grenades, stormed the upscale eatery in the diplomatic zone in Gulshan on July 1 and held the diners hostage before brutally killing 20 of them -- three Bangladeshis, seven Japanese, nine Italians and one Indian.
The five militants were killed during a rescue operation by army commandoes.
Two police officials and a chef of the café were also killed during the 12-hour standoff while another injured staffer of the eatery died later.
REASONS BEHIND ATTACK
In the verdict, the judge shed light on the reasons behind the attack and its mastermind -- Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury -- a Canadian citizen of Bangladeshi origin.
The members of neo-JMB, formed by a faction of Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, carried out the “brutal and monstrous murders” in the bakery to draw attention of the IS and endanger public safety by waging so-called Jihad, the court said.
The government banned the JMB on February 23, 2005, holding it responsible for a series of bomb attacks and killings.
“The audacity, cruelty and brutality of militancy were manifested through the attack at the Holey Artisan Bakery,” the court noted.
When innocent people, both local and foreigners, went to the café for dinner, they came across the brutal face of militancy all of a sudden, it said.
The militants killed people in front of children and hacked dead bodies with sharp weapons to confirm death, the judge said, adding, “The Holey Artisan Bakery was turned into a death valley within a moment.”
ROAD TO JUSTICE
After the mayhem, a case was filed with Gulshan police under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
On July 23 last year, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime Unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police submitted to a Dhaka court a charge sheet against eight militants.
Thirteen other militants were also found involved in the attack. Their names were not included in the charge sheet as they had been killed in different anti-militant drives across the country.
The court recorded testimonies of 113 witnesses, including survivors, victims’ family members, police personnel and café staffers, and closing arguments from both the prosecution and defence counsels before fixing yesterday for delivering the verdict.
Yesterday, the eight accused were taken to the court in the old part of the city by a prison van at 10:20am.
Hundreds of security personnel, including members of Rapid Action Battalion, were deployed in and around the court premises. Archways fitted with metal detectors were set up at the building’s entrance and in front of the courtroom.
Around 11:30am, journalists were allowed to enter the courtroom after being checked with handheld metal detectors.
Police later made the journalists and lawyers leave the courtroom, and thoroughly searched it. The law enforcers allowed them to enter it after a few minutes.
The courtroom soon got packed. Many lawyers and even journalists were seen taking photographs and selfies inside it.
Just before noon, the accused were brought to the dock.
The judge sat at 12:02pm and gave an introductory speech, thanking all involved in the trial process.
“There may be varied reactions after the verdict, but as a judge I have tried my best to ensure justice considering all aspects [of the case],” said Majibur.
He then read out the summary of the 134-page verdict.
The judge handed down death sentence to seven for attempts to kill, grievously hurt or hold hostage. They were also fined Tk 50,000 each.
The seven death-row convicts are -- Jahangir Hossain, Aslam Hossain Rash, Hadisur Rahman, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Md Abdus Sabur Khan, Shariful Islam Khaled and Mamunur Rashid Ripon.
They were also awarded five years’ imprisonment and fined Tk 10,000 each for supporting a banned entity. In default, they have to serve one more year in jail, it said.
The seven were also sentenced to six months in jail for holding membership of the banned entity.
All of them except for Mamunur were handed down 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of Tk 10 lakh each for financing terrorist activities. In default, they will have to serve two more years in jail.
However, all the jail terms will be merged with the death sentence. They can file appeals with the High Court, challenging the verdict.
The court cleared accused Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan from the charges.
It said though he had given a confessional statement before a metropolitan magistrate, no one gave any testimony against him and there was no strong evidence of his involvement in the crime.
Mizanur, however, will not be released from jail as several cases against him are pending.
Moments after the judge left the courtroom at 12:15pm, some of the convicts shouted “Allahu Akbar”.
“You will be judged by Allah in afterlife,” one of them shouted at the judge before they were hauled off to police vans on the court premises.
Later they were taken to Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj.
Metropolitan Public Prosecutor Abdullah Abu said they were happy with the verdict but will try to know the reasons behind the acquittal of one accused upon receipt of the full text of the verdict.
The family members of one of the victims -- assistant commissioner of Detective Branch of Police Rabiul Karim -- demanded quick execution of the verdict.
Inspector General of Police Javed Patwary said they would go for an appeal with the HC against the acquittal of one accused.
In his reaction, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government would soon take necessary steps to prepare a paper book of the case for HC hearing on the death reference and appeal.
Delwar Hossain, one of the defence counsels, said they were aggrieved by the verdict and will challenge it at the HC.