DHAKA – Two years after one of the worst Islamist attacks in Bangladesh’s history, the country is touting its success in combatting and controlling militancy and extremism.
On the night of July 1, 2016, five militants stormed the Holey Artisan Cafe and Bakery in Dhaka’s posh Gulshan area and took several dozen people, including 18 foreign nationals, hostage.
Twenty hostages — seven Japanese, nine Italians, one Indian, one Bangladesh-born American and two Bangladeshis — were killed as the militants sprayed them with bullets indiscriminately and slit their throats.
Two police officials were also shot dead when they tried to rescue the hostages. All the militants, including a chef inside the restaurant, were also killed during the rescue drive.
Japanese Ambassador Hiroyasu Izumi voiced appreciation for the efforts of the Bangladesh government to ensure the security and safety of Japanese in the country.
He said Japanese investors are showing renewed interest in Bangladesh as the country is quickly recovering from the trauma of the attack.
All seven of the Japanese killed — five men and two women — were associated with the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a Japanese government-funded organization created to provide technical assistance and other help in developing nations.
Despite the setback, JICA is also resuming its normal activities, but it is yet to install a sign outside its office in Dhaka, suggesting it still does not feel fully secure.
The ambassador and JICA officials said they are hopeful of a return of Japanese investment to Bangladesh. Japan is willing to be involved in Bangladesh in a bigger way, they said.
But nearly 100 Japanese volunteers engaged in activities in rural Bangladesh have yet to return after they left following the 2016 massacre.
Explaining the situation in the country two years after the tragedy, retired Maj. Gen. Muniruzzaman, president of the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, said tactical operations against militants have been successful. He said that while the situation has improved significantly, complete normalcy has yet to return. There is fear of a resurgence in militancy ahead of general elections later this year or early next year, he said.
“Force alone is not, and has never been, the best strategy to defeat an ideology,” Muniruzzaman said.
He suggested that the government should formulate short-, medium- and long-term strategies to combat terrorism collectively and comprehensively, as a distorted religious ideology could not be defeated only by using force.
“If it takes an entire village to educate a child, it takes an entire nation to prevent radicalism,” he said
Benzir Ahmed, director general of the Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, said in an interview on Thursday that the security situation in the capital Dhaka is back to normal.
“The Holey Artisan attack was a wake-up call for the government to fight militancy in all possible ways,” he said. Law enforcement agencies, in addition to applying force, are monitoring the movement of suspects, collecting information and foiling militants’ plans on a regular basis, he added.
In the wake of the attack, the RAB has carried out 150 anti-militancy operations, resulting in the arrests of 480 militants, with 21 being killed, he said.
“We have been successful in all operations against militants. And we are always ready to prevent militancy in Bangladesh,” he said.
He said Bangladesh is trying to provide safety and security for Japanese living in the country.
On Thursday, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Miah told reporters that the investigation into the attack has been completed and that in the first week of July charges would be brought against 21 militants for their involvement.
Residents in Dhaka said that although normalcy is returning gradually, the fear of militancy lingers.
The owners of the Holey Artisan restaurant reopened the establishment last year a few blocks away from the original location — without a sign outside.