DHAKA – A special tribunal Wednesday accepted murder and other charges against eight suspected Islamic militants in a grisly attack on a restaurant two years ago in Bangladesh’s capital.
Twenty hostages, including 17 people from Japan, Italy and India, were killed when five militants attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in 2016. The militants were killed by commandos inside the cafe during a 12-hour standoff. Two security officials later died of their injuries in a hospital.
Judge Mujibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka accepted the charges and set the next hearing for Aug. 16. Six of the accused are behind bars, and two are fugitives.
The police investigation has found that 21 people were involved in the attack on July 1, 2016, but 13 of them have now been killed by security officials in raids, according to case documents.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the operation, but authorities insisted that it had no presence in the country and instead blamed a domestic group, Jumatual Mujahedeen Bangladesh.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry’s press secretary, Takeshi Osuga, said Tokyo has asked Bangladesh to ensure the safety and security of its citizens in the future. Seven Japanese were killed in the 2016 incident. “Our foreign minister, Taro Kono, asked Bangladesh’s prime minister on Tuesday to ensure safety and security, as Japan wants to participate in more economic development,” Osuga said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina assured him that such an attack will not happen again in the future, Bangladesh sources said.
Japan has signed a $2.62 billion metro rail project in Dhaka in which it will invest $1.92 billion. But all its citizens pulled out of Bangladesh after the 2016 attack, and work was stopped on the project for a year.
Osuga said Bangladesh has asked Japan to withdraw its travel alert but Tokyo cannot do this without further studying the situation.
Japan also wants Bangladesh to share its findings from the investigation into the attack.
The cafe siege followed several years of small attacks targeting scores of people whom extremists deemed enemies of radical Islam, including secularists, writers, religious minorities, foreigners and activists.
Bangladesh has experienced a rise in Islamic militancy in recent years, but Hasina’s government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched a massive crackdown, saying it is following a policy of zero tolerance of radical Islamists.
Since the attack, authorities have captured or killed dozens of suspects and said that Jumatual Mujahedeen Bangladesh has been weakened, if not eliminated completely. The cafe reopened in January last year a few blocks away from its old site