4 years of Holey Artisan Café attack: recalling the night of horror | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 01, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:42 PM, July 01, 2020

4 years of Holey Artisan Café attack: recalling the night of horror

It was a quiet Friday evening at the Holey Artisan Bakery towards the end of Ramadan in 2016.

At the upscale eatery in the posh Gulshan neighbourhood, guests were ordering coffee, croissants, bagels, pizzas and pastries and about 20 waiters were rushing back and forth.

Located right next to the Gulshan Lake, the two-storey Western-style ritzy café with large windows and a manicured lawn, was a favourite hangout for both expatriates and Bangladeshis.

On the ground floor, Italian national Nadia Benedetti was at a farewell dinner with eight other Italian businesspeople. It was past 8:00pm.

Just a few yards away, Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain was catching up with his friends Abinta Kabir and Tarishi Jain.

Sitting at the table at one end of the hall, Makoto Okamura was dining with six other Japanese nationals. Hasnat Karim, a former teacher of a private university, was with his family to celebrate his daughter's birthday.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, who arrived in Dhaka from Canada in the morning, was sitting in the gazebo by the lake with his friends Fairuz Maliha and Tahana Tasmia.

The chefs and stewardesses were busy preparing and serving food.

Around 8:45pm, five young men, each with a backpack, appeared at the gate. As they were entering, gatekeeper Nur Alam enquired about their identities. As they walked in ignoring him, the guard asked, "Where do you want to go?"

"Get lost," shouted one of them, punching Alam in the right eye.

They stormed the premises, shouting Allahu Akbar.

Dressed in cargo pants, jeans and T-shirts, they burst through the door. Carrying semi-automatic rifles, grenades and machetes, they stood with their backs to each other and fired indiscriminately as they continued yelling Allahu Akbar.

Shrieks and screams were heard from all directions. Panicked and bewildered, the diners dived under tables and chairs. Restaurant employees scampered for safety.

"You don't have to be scared. We will not kill the Muslims; place your heads on the table," the gunmen said.

The nation's worst hostage crisis was unfolding. People stood aghast at the extent of terror not seen in Bangladesh ever before.

The chilling siege ended after 12 hours, but brought shockingly grim news for the country and beyond: nine Italians, seven Japanese, two Bangladeshis, one Bangladeshi-American and one Indian were dead.

During the siege, the militants held the diners hostage and tested whether they could recite verses from the Holy Quran.

The Italians were the first victims of the mindless shooting. Then the militants shot other foreigners dead. They used the victims' phones to publish images of the bodies on social media.

The law enforcers could not initially fathom the situation. As they tried to close in on the place, the gunmen opened fire and hurled grenades, sending a wave of panic in the area. Two police officers got killed.

When para-commandos began their drive codenamed "Operation Thunderbolt" and stormed the restaurant, they found traces of mindless butchery. Twenty hostages, including 17 foreigners, were brutally murdered. The floor was strewn with the bodies.

More than three years after the massacre on July 1, the survivors still recount the gruelling hours of the siege.

"It was a horrific night. I did not think I would be alive," Delwar Hossain, who was the assistant chef at the restaurant, told The Daily Star on Saturday.

Delwar, who got re-appointed in the freshly opened Holey Artisan Bakery, said he along with eight other staff had taken refuge in the restroom. The attackers found this out around 2:30am and made them come out.

Delwar saw bodies lying in a pool of blood.

"Don't be afraid. We will not kill you. Listen to me," Nibras had told them, adding that the mission was to kill foreigners.

Delwar said, "I spent the night in fear as I listened to the gunshots and haunting screams. I still shudder at the thought of the horrific night."

The manifestation of brutality is also narrated in the charge sheet of the case filed later.

Around 12:30am, the five gunmen put out lights in the hall room and started hacking the guests -- both Bangladeshi and foreigners -- lying on the floor, said the charge sheet.

It also mentioned the brutality of the attackers as described by Sat Prakash, a survivor.

He heard a woman groaning in excruciating pain.

"She is not dead yet," said the attacker while hitting the victim with a sharp weapon.

Twenty-year-old Faraaz, a student at Emory University's Goizueta Business School in the US, was killed along with his friends -- Abinta, a Bangladesh-born US citizen and also a student at Emory University, and Tarishi, an Indian student of the University of California.

As the night wore on, the militants asked the chefs to cook for the hostages and the staffers. They were using mobile phones, tablets and laptops and reading news and laughing.

At daybreak, the gunmen allowed several hostages to walk out of the restaurant. But they didn't release the staffers, who were rescued later by the para commandos.

Five terrorists and a chef of the café were killed in the commando operation. Another injured staffer later died in hospital.

After the mayhem, a case was filed with Gulshan police under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Following the café siege, law enforcers launched a massive crackdown on terror networks and eliminated a number of militants.

Since then, law enforcers carried out 28 high risk anti-militancy operations at militant dens where 79 militants were killed and a huge stash of explosives were destroyed or seized. Besides, more than 250 other militants have been arrested, said officials of Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime unit of DMP.

After around two years of investigation, police on July 23 last year pressed charges against eight of the 21 militants who were involved in the terror incident. Thirteen of the 21 were killed in different raids.

A Dhaka court on November 27 last year 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.

The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal acquitted one accused as it found him not guilty in the atrocity.

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.

The court cleared accused Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan from the charges of the case.

[This narrative is based on witness accounts and the charge sheet of the case]


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