Bangladesh Islamists sentenced to death for 2016 cafe attack



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Seven Islamists have been sentenced to death for a 2016 attack on a cafe in the Bangladeshi capital in which 22 people, mostly foreigners, were killed.

The attack on the Holey Artisan cafe in Dhaka was carried out by a group of five men, who took diners hostage.

Eight people were on trial, accused of planning and supplying the attackers with weapons. One man was acquitted.

The 12-hour siege was Bangladesh’s deadliest terrorist attack. Most of the victims were Italian or Japanese.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, but Bangladesh disputed this, instead holding a local militant group responsible.

Since the attack, Bangladesh authorities have led a brutal crackdown on militants it sees as a destabilising force in the predominantly Muslim country.

Public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan, speaking after the verdict was delivered, said the charges against the accused “were proved beyond any doubt”.

“The court gave them the highest punishment,” the prosecutor told reporters.

A defence lawyer said the seven men would appeal. Death sentences in Bangladesh are carried out by hanging.

The seven convicted men were accused of belonging to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an outlawed group.

Sentencing the men in Dhaka on Wednesday, a judge said they wanted to undermine public safety and create anarchy.

Some of the men shouted “Allahu Akbar” (an Arabic phrase meaning “God is greatest”) as they were led away from the packed courtroom, AFP news agency reported.

One of the suspected masterminds of the attack, Nurul Islam Marzan, was killed in a shootout with anti-terrorism police in January 2017, authorities said.

How did the attack happen?

On the evening of 1 July 2016, five gunmen burst into the Holey Artisan cafe in the upmarket Gulshan district of Dhaka.

Armed with assault rifles and machetes, the young attackers opened fire and took diners hostage at gun-point.

The attack saw victims inside the cafe, most of whom were foreigners, shot or hacked to death by the militants.

Army commandos were called in after two police officers died trying to fight the militants.

After a 12-hour stand-off, the commandos stormed the building and rescued 13 hostages, killing all five militants behind the attack.

The casualties included nine Italians, seven Japanese, an American and an Indian. Family members and friends of the victims had gathered outside site of the attack, anxiously waiting for news.

Bangladesh Army Brig Gen Naim Asraf Chowdhury said the victims had been “brutally” attacked with sharp weapons.

“It was an extremely heinous act,” Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a televised address at the time. “What kind of Muslims are these people? They don’t have any religion.”

How did the authorities respond?

Officials say more than 100 Islamist extremists were killed and nearly 1,000 others arrested in a wave of operations that followed the attack.

Before that there had been a string of deadly attacks on secular writers, bloggers and member of religious minorities.

There have been persistent worries over the authorities’ tactics.The UN and others have blamed the security forces for enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and use of torture.

BBC