Islamists sentenced to death for 2016 cafe attack

Seven Islamists have been sentenced to death for a 2016 attack on a cafe in the Bangladeshi capital in which 22 people, mostly foreigners, were killed.

The attack on the Holey Artisan cafe in Dhaka was carried out by a group of five men, who took diners hostage.

Eight people were on trial, accused of planning the attack and supplying weapons. One man was acquitted.

The 12-hour siege was Bangladesh’s deadliest Islamist attack. Most of the victims were Italian or Japanese.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, but Bangladesh disputed this, instead holding a local militant group responsible. All of the gunmen were killed by police.

Since the attack, Bangladesh authorities have led a brutal crackdown on militants it sees as a destabilising force in the predominantly Muslim country.

Public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan, speaking after the verdict was delivered, said the charges against the accused “were proved beyond any doubt”.

“The court gave them the highest punishment,” the prosecutor told reporters.

A defence lawyer said the seven men would appeal. Death sentences in Bangladesh are carried out by hanging.

The wife of Robiul Islam, a policeman killed in the attack, said she hoped the death sentence would be carried out as soon as possible.

“In our society, it is really difficult for a widow to live with two kids. But I’ll consider myself lucky because I’ve been showered with respect and support. My husband died for his country and is considered a martyr,” Umme Salma told BBC Bengali.

The seven convicted men were accused of belonging to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a home-grown Islamist group outlawed in the country.

Sentencing the men in Dhaka, the judge said they wanted to undermine public safety and create anarchy.

Some of the men shouted “Allahu Akbar” (an Arabic phrase meaning “God is greatest”) as they were led away from the packed courtroom, AFP news agency reported.

A security cordon was put in place outside the court, with hundreds of armed police officers surrounding the building.

One of the suspected masterminds of the attack, Nurul Islam Marzan, was killed in a shootout with anti-terrorism police in January 2017, authorities said.

On the evening of 1 July 2016, five gunmen burst into the Holey Artisan cafe in the up market Gulshan district of Dhaka. -BBC

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