By Prapti Rahman and Kamran Reza Chowdhury on Jun 29, 2018
Bangladesh is still holding a British man in connection with a terror attack at a Dhaka café two years ago even though police have found no evidence against him, a counterterrorism official told BenarNews on Friday.
Hasnat Karim’s name did not appear in a presentation of 21 alleged perpetrators that was shown to families of victims in March. Authorities have yet to file a charge sheet in the case, although Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia told journalists this week it would be submitted “in seven to 10 days.”
“We have not found any evidence linking Hasnat Karim with the militants,” an official with the police’s counterterrorism unit told BenarNews on condition of anonymity.
“One of the reasons for the delay in completing the charge sheet is our confusion over the role of Hasnat Karim in the attack,” he said.
On the evening of July 1, 2016, five militants armed with AK-22 submachine guns, pistols and machetes, stormed the upscale Holey Artisan Café in Dhaka’s diplomatic zone, took diners hostages and killed 20 people. In all, 29 people died including two police officers, two café workers and the militants.
Karim, a former engineering professor at North South University (NSU) in Dhaka, was among the café customers when the militants barged in. He was with his family celebrating his daughter’s birthday.
After being taken hostage and released with his wife and two children, authorities ordered his arrest on Aug. 2, 2016, over allegations that he had behaved suspiciously during the overnight siege.
In January 2017, lawyer Moinul Hossain told BenarNews that a court had rejected his petition for Karim’s bail. BenarNews could not immediately reach Hossain on Friday, but sources said Karim’s petition for temporary freedom had been rejected at least 10 times.
‘No innocent person will be charged’
The extremist group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack that lasted until daylight the next morning, when army commandos raided the restaurant and killed the five militants.
Since then, Bangladeshi security forces have killed dozens of suspected members of Neo-JMB, a militant faction blamed for the terrorist act. The slain suspects included Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian citizen accused by Bangladeshi authorities of planning the attack.
Mia, the commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP), told reporters Thursday that the charge sheet would “contain the names of the people detected to have specific involvement in the attack.”
“No innocent person will be charged,” he said.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the police had finalized the charge sheet, which would be placed before the court “very soon.”
The court will hear the case on July 26, he said.
“If the court accepts the charge sheet and if they think Hasnat Karim is innocent, they can order his release,” Khan told BenarNews.
But he said he could not share details of the charge sheet.
Karim’s wife: Daughters forced out of school
Meanwhile in an interview, Karim’s wife said that jail authorities had allowed her and her children to visit him twice a month.
Sharmina Parveen said she last saw her husband on June 20.
“I repeatedly say that my husband is innocent. But many media outlets published stories implicating him in the attack,” she told BenarNews, saying that her husband’s detention had brought anguish and delivered financial difficulties for her family.
Karim, who holds a master’s degree from a British university, left his teaching job at NSU and joined his father’s business that supplies electrical instruments. But his family suffered more economic difficulties when his father died while he was in jail, Parveen said.
“You can easily understand how we survive without Hasnat and his father,” said Parveen, who is now living with her mother-in-law and two daughters.
The stigma attached to being the father of a suspect detained in the café attack also struck her children hard, she said.
“My daughters were forced out of school for being daughters of Hasnat Karim. For almost two years, they could not attend any school,” she said, adding that her children were only recently allowed to attend a school in the Dhaka neighborhood of Gulshan.
With the length it took authorities to build the charge sheet, it should be without any legal holes at this point, according to Nur Khan, former executive director of the rights group Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, as he explained the document’s importance.
“This is because not only the Bangladeshis, but the whole world has been waiting for the charge sheet,” he told BenarNews. “No innocent people should punished in any circumstances.”