The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal on Wednesday cleared Hasnat Karim of terrorism charges after accepting a police chargesheet that named eight suspects involved in the deadly 2016 attack on the Holey Artisan restaurant.
“During our two-year long investigation, we did not find any involvement [of Karim] in this attack directly or indirectly, so he was acquitted from this case,” said Monirul Islam, the head of Bangladeshi police’s counterterrorism and transnational crime unit.
Karim, a businessman and former university professor, was released on Thursday.
He was in the upmarket restaurant on July 1, 2016, to celebrate his daughter’s birthday when a group of gunmen linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group attacked the venue, killing more than 20 foreigners.
The attackers spared many Bangladeshi guests and restaurant employees, releasing them the following morning.
Karim and his family were among those released.
The police later put Karim and student Tahmid Khan on the suspect list and held both men in secret detention for a month without court authorisation.
When they were formally arrested, the police said they were found on the streets of Dhaka.
Khan was released a few weeks later, but Karim remained in jail for another two years, accused of having links to the banned organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir without any evidence.
Amnesty International, a global rights organisation, voiced criticism over his detention.
“Hasnat Karim and his family were victims of a terror attack. They should have never have been forced through two years of further trauma with Karim suffering unfairly behind bars,” said Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International.
“Karim’s detention was inhumane and illegal. The end of his suffering is a cause for celebration, but we must not forget that sadly, he is not alone in being a target of the Bangladeshi authorities’ arbitrary force of law.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera as Karim was released, his wife Sharmina Parveen said: “I don’t want to say much. Obviously, I am so relieved.”
Sabera Karim, his older sister, who is based in the United States, said: “Our father died whilst Hasnat was in jail. My brother’s detention broke his heart and, and I wish he could have been here to see that he came home.
“I am overwhelmingly happy right now but it feels incomplete as my father is not here.”