Holey Artisan attack shook the entire nation

Holey Artisan Bakery attackFile photo

A horrific militant attack took place at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, an upscale area in the capital, on this day seven years ago. A total of 20 people, including foreigners and two policemen, were killed in the deadliest attack in the history of the country.

Among the deceased were nine Italians, seven Japanese, three Bangladeshis and one Indian citizen. The entire nation was shocked by the manner in which the militants killed these people.

Two police officials were killed while conducting an operation to free people from the hostage situation. They are assistant commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) Rabiul Karim and the then officer-in-charge (OC) of Gulshan police station Salahuddin Khan.

Concerned police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officials say militant activities in the country have decreased due to the continuous anti-militant drives of the law enforcement agencies. The militants do not have the capacity to carry out any further attacks.

The police reached the spot on 1 July 2016 right after the militants captured the restaurant. Two police officials were killed while attempting to rescue the hostages in the restaurant in the first phase.

Considering the severity of the attack and the situation, members of RAB, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Navy commandos and the army joined the police there later.  The militants shot and hacked to death the people who came to the restaurant, including a pregnant woman, university students and citizens of several development partners of Bangladesh.

The suffocating hostage situation ended with an army commando operation the next morning.

Five militants, who were directly involved in the attack, were killed in the operation. They are – Rohan Imtiaz, Samiul Mobashwir, Shafiqul Islam and Khairul Islam.  The first three among them were from upper and upper middle class educated families.

Later, the Middle East-based international militant outfit Islamic State (IS) issued a statement taking responsibility for the attack. The militant outfit also claimed the five attackers too be their ‘members’. However, the government refuted the claim saying local militant outfit neo-JMB (Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh) was behind the attack.

The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of the DMP submitted the charge sheet of the case on 23 July 2018 after two years of investigation. The court declared the verdict in this case within one year of the start of judicial proceedings last November. The court sentenced seven of the eight accused to death and acquitted one. Besides, the death row convicts were fined Tk 50,000 each.

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The convicted accused are - Jahangir Hossain alias Rajib Gandhi, Aslam Hossain alias Rash, Abdus Sabur Khan, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Hadisur Rahman, Shariful Islam alias Khaled and Mamunur Rashid Ripon. Apart from this, the court acquitted Mizanur Rahman alias Bara Mizan as his involvement in the incident was not proved beyond doubt.

The attack was planned one and a half years ago

The five militants of the suicide squad were given the task to implement the attack which was planned one and a half years earlier. Their initial plan was to carry out an attack in a crowded place of Gulshan. However, they changed the plan and chose Holey Artisan as their target two weeks prior to the day of the attack. And the attackers got to know about the target only three to four days before the attack was carried out. The blueprint of the attack was revealed in the long investigation of the law enforcement agencies.

The suffocating hostage situation ended with an army commando operation the next morning
File photo

According to the concerned law enforcement agencies, inspired by the ideologies of the international militant organisation Islamic State (IS) a group of JMB decided to carry out an attack on the foreigners. The so-called ‘sura committee’ of this militant outfit, which later became known as neo-JMB, took the decision in a meeting held in the Saghata area of Gaibandha. Some 13 of the people, who were directly involved in developing the plan, training and implementation of the attack, were killed in different drives conducted by the law enforcement agencies at different times.

Some 64 militants were killed in 15 drives following the Holey Artisan attack and 11 of them were killed in gunfights with the law enforcement agencies.

According to the investigation report of the case and confessional statements of the arrested militants, an Italian named Caesar Tabela was killed in the capital’s Gulshan on 28 September, 2015.

The neo-JMB came into discussion by killing people of different faiths and foreigners one after another, including a foreigner, Christians, Hindu priest and Shia Muslims and by carrying out attacks on Shia Masjid and Ahmadia Masjid. As part of this, they planned a significant attack in the capital.

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According to sources, the sura committee of JMB held a meeting in a house in the Bonarpara area of Saghata upazila in Gaibandha by the end of February in 2015. In the meeting, a Bangladeshi Canadian named Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury raised the proposal to carry out an attack in the diplomatic zone of the capital. Later, the sura committee approved the proposal. The committee also decided that Tamim Chowdhury will be the main coordinator of the attack.

According to the people relevant to the investigation, there were mainly three reasons behind the Holey Artisan attack. First, to inform people about their capability; second, exposing atrocities by killing foreigners and third, to get a massive coverage in the international media.

Considering the severity of the attack and the situation, members of RAB, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), Navy commandos and the army joined the operation
File photo

The sources further said, after approving the proposal for attack, the then military commander Shariful Islam alias Khaled of JMB was appointed to select the five attackers. He said to carry out an attack in Dhaka, the attackers must be residents of Dhaka. Then the military commander of JMB in Dhaka, Abu Raihan alias Tarique proposed the names of BRAC University student Rohan Imtiaz, Scholastica student Samiul Mobashwir and Monash University Malaysia student Nibras Islam. They all were on ‘hijrat’ (migration) at the time.

Several people, including these five, had left their homes for ‘hijrat’ and were staying in different houses rented by the militants in Jhenaidah, Bogura, Gainbandha and Pabna.

After leaving home, these youths were kept in different militant hideouts and were given theoretical initiation on militancy. They were also used in killing people. Those five involved in the Holey Artisan attack were also used for murdering people, including a Hindu priest, converted Christians and Shia Muslims, in different districts of the country. In this way, they became trained in killing people. Later, they were persuaded that there is no need to go to Syria for jihad. There were many works to be done in the country as well.

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Then, neo-JMB’s military commander Khalid sent the five youths, who were chosen for the Gulshan attack, to Marzan in the first week of May, 2016.  Marzan took them to Fulchhari Char in Saghata upazila of Gaibandha. They were trained there for 28 days. Retired major Zahidul Islam was the chief trainer there. He trained the militants to operate AK-22 rifles and pistols.

Rashed alias Rash and Sagar of JMB was given the task to manage weapons and explosives for the attack. Rashed brought four pistols in four months through the Chapainawabganj border and gave them to Chhota Mizan.

He brought those arms to Dhaka in baskets of mangoes and delivered them to a certain Basharuzzaman. Basharuzzaman took those weapons to Marzan. Sagar and Chhota Mizan collected five AK-22 rifles from the same border.

The people we lost that day
File photo

Bara Mizan helped them collect these weapons from India. On the other hand, Sagar brought the bombs used in the Holey Artisan attack through the Chowgacha border in Jashore in May 2016. Tamim brought money for the attack from abroad through hundi on 28 June.

The people we lost that day

A total of 20 people were killed in the militant attack, including two members of police. They are Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, Abinta Kabir, Ishrat Akhand, assistant commissioner of DMP Rabiul Karim, OC Salauddin Khan, Tarishi Jain, Claudio Cappelli, Vincenzo D'Allestro, Marco Tondat, Nadia Benedetti, Simona Monti, Cristian Rossi, Maria Rivoli, Adele Puglisi, Claudia Maria D'Antona, Okamura Makoto, Ogasawara Koyo, Hashimoto Hideki, Tanaka Hiroshi, Sakai Yuko, Shimodaira Rui and Kurosaki Nobuhiro.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Friday, Md Asaduzzaman, chief of the police’s CTTC unit, said, “We have successfully contained militant activities in the country. A new militant outfit tried to become active. We have diffused them too.”