Dhaka, Bangladesh – An anti-terrorism court in Dhaka has sentenced seven people to death in connection with a deadly siege in 2016 of a popular cafe in the Bangladeshi capital.
One person was acquitted by the court on Wednesday, which delivered its verdict amid tight security.
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Twenty-two people were killed after gunmen stormed the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan area on July 1, 2016, in an attack that drew global condemnation. The victims included 17 foreigners.
Judge Md Majibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal of Dhaka ordered the deaths by hanging.
“These people wanted to wreak havoc in the society and wanted to establish a Jihadist state. As their activities threatened public safety, they will be executed by hanging until they are pronounced dead,” Judge Rahman pronounced.
Hundreds of security forces, including the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion, were deployed on Wednesday in and around the court premises in Dhaka.
Two of the convicts were seen wearing prayer caps with insignia of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS) group.
“You will be judged by Allah in afterlife,” one of them shouted at Judge Rahman.
The seven convicts facing the gallows are: Hadisur Rahman, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Aslam Hossain Rash, Md Abdus Sabur Khan, Shariful Islam Khaled, Mamunur Rashid Ripon and Jahangir Hossain.
Another accused, Mizanur Rahman, was acquitted as allegations brought against him could not be proved.
In July last year, the Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit of Dhaka Metropolitan Police submitted a charge-sheet against eight suspects from the banned armed group Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB).
Golam Sharuar Khan Zakir, the public prosecutor, welcomed the verdict. “We sought death penalty for them as they were intricately involved with the terrorist attack even though they didn’t physically take part in it.”
Another public prosecutor, Abdullah Abu, told reporters that they were satisfied with the judgement but he expressed concern at the acquittal of one of the accused.
Inspector General of Police Mohammad Javed Patwary said that an appeal will be filed against the acquittal of Mizanur Rahman.
Meanwhile, defence lawyer Delwar Hossain said the verdict was given hastily. “We are not happy with the verdict. We will appeal to the higher court.”
The attack on the cafe
The assailants entered the bakery – which was popular with foreigners – armed with crude bombs, machetes and pistols, and took several dozen hostages.
Security forces stormed the cafe to break the 12-hour siege during which ISIL, which claimed the attack, posted photos of what it said were dead foreign hostages.
An investigation by the CTTC found that a group of local fighters had prepared for at least six months before carrying out the deadliest attack in the history of Bangladesh.
The CTTC officials said the eight accused in the case were directly involved with five gunmen – Nibrash Islam, Mir Sabeh Mubashir, Rohan Imtiaz, Khairul Islam Payel and Shafiqul Islam Uzzal – who were killed during the operation launched to free the hostages, known as “Operation Thunderbolt”.
Shamsuzzaman Jaman Shams, brother of police officer Rabiul Karim who was killed during the deadly attack wanted the verdict to be executed immediately.
“The pain that we experienced on the night of the attack still prevails in our heart,” he said.
‘Zero-tolerance against terrorism’
According to the charge-sheet, the suspects carried out the attack to destabilise the South Asian nation of 160 million people.
“The suspects thought if they could kill a large number of foreigners, they would be under local and international spotlight. At the same time, they would be able to draw the attention of global terrorist groups,” read the charge-sheet.
Bangladesh security forces have since killed dozens of suspected fighters, many of them belonging to the JMB and its offshoot “Neo-JMB”.
CTTC Chief Monirul Islam told Al Jazeera that the Neo-JMB leaders, financiers and organisers had either been killed or arrested.
Prior to Neo-JMB, Ansar al-Islam – another armed group – was blamed for a spate of deadly attacks on writers, bloggers and online activists between 2013 and 2016.
Ansar al-Islam is now mainly active online, calling supporters to carry out attacks.
Security analyst retired Major General Abdur Rashid called the verdict: “A milestone”.
“With this verdict, Bangladesh, as a country legally establishes its zero-tolerance stance against militancy and terrorism,” he told Al Jazeera.