The memory continues to haunt the collective consciousness of the country reminding us of the profound loss suffered by the victims' loved ones.
This year, diplomats from various foreign embassies, including India, Italy, the United States and Japan, gathered at the site of the deadliest terrorist attack on Bangladeshi soil in recent history – the premises of Holey Artisan Cafe, located at Gulshan, Dhaka – to offer floral wreaths as a symbol of respect and remembrance for the victims of the Holey Artisan Bakery attack.
What happened that night
I can vividly recall the night of 1 July 2016. I was preparing for my university admission test, unaware of the world outside my studies. Around 9 pm, my friend called and informed me about a terrorist attack in Dhaka in the upscale neighbourhood of Gulshan-2. I raced to the television.
The news was broadcasted across all national channels and circulated on social media. And the entire country came to a standstill. I would assume the unfolding unprecedented event held everyone at the edge of their seats deeply concerned for the hostages.
On a fateful evening seven years ago, as the month of Ramadan neared its end, the Holey Artisan Bakery welcomed a modest crowd after the day's Iftar as business per usual. Amidst the calm ambience, guests gradually arrived at the two-story establishment, a popular spot cherished by both expatriates and locals alike.
As the evening progressed, the number of diners grew. By 8 pm, the restaurant had become busier, with groups of Italians and Japanese among the foreigners seated at the tables, alongside a few local Bangladeshis.
Little did they know the horrifying events that lay ahead, which first pierced and then shattered the tranquillity of the night.
Around 8:45 pm, amidst the conversations and clinking of cutlery, a sudden loud noise erupted, reminiscent of a firecracker. In a shocking turn of events, five young individuals armed with machetes, grenades and semi-automatic rifles stormed into the restaurant indiscriminately firing their weapons.
The guests and staff of the restaurant were held captive and at one point the militants started killing some of the hostages one by one.
An ordeal of approximately 12 hours left a total of 22 people killed, including 17 foreigners and two police officers in one of the deadliest militant attacks in Bangladesh's history. Among the victims were nine Italians, seven Japanese, three Bangladeshis and an Indian citizen. And at least 50 people were seriously injured.
Transfixed, the country watched.
Like many others, sleep evaded me as I remained glued to social media and news outlets until morning when the carnage ended with the intervention of a team of army commandos who neutralised the five attackers.
Army, navy, air force, police, BGB, Rab and SWAT combinedly worked to rescue the hostages and eventually rescued 13 alive. The 12-hour-bone-chilling ordeal ended with 'Operation Thunderbolt.'
The responsibility for the attack was claimed by the terrorist group known as the Islamic State, according to SITE Intelligencer. However, the government of Bangladesh strongly denied the presence of the organisation within the country.
A gloomy Saturday
Yesterday, the ceremony began at 9:30 am, with Indian High Commissioner Pranay Kumar Verma laying wreaths on a dais set up in front of the building situated at Plot 5, Road no. 79, Gulshan. Japanese Ambassador Iwama Kiminori followed, and officials from the Italian and US embassies also paid homage.
During the tribute, Indian High Commissioner Verma reflected on the significance of the day in remembering all the victims. "As a close friend and partner of Bangladesh, we deeply share the grief and trauma caused by that barbaric and inhuman incident," he stated.
Japan Ambassador Iwama Kiminori said, "Seven years have passed since the terrorist attack had taken place and my heart is still shocked with grief at the thought of bereaved families who lost their beloved ones."
Mattia Ventura, Charge D Affaires of the Italian embassy in Dhaka, while speaking to The Business Standard on Saturday evening said that the Italian government and family of the victims "Every year, show deep respect to the martyrs of this tragic incident that claimed lives of Italian, Japanese, Indian-American and Bangladeshis."
The Italian Embassy also expressed gratitude and its deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives, including the police personnel sacrificed in the incident
"The government of Bangladesh took prompt action in bringing the situation under control," added Ventura. The Italian CdA also remembered the common commitment so that brutal attacks will never happen anywhere, anymore and expressed satisfaction with the cooperation with local authorities on the management of the crisis and its consequences.
He also expressed his hope that the judicial proceedings against the penetrators of the attack will be completed on time.
Seven received death sentences
The families of the victims, who lost their lives, are still waiting to see justice.
On 27 November 2019, the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal convicted and sentenced seven militants to death for their involvement in the attack, one was acquitted.
The death reference and appeals are currently being heard in the High Court. The state is seeking the death penalty for all militants convicted by the lower court. The hearing, which began in December 2019, is expected to conclude in July 2023.
The attorney general AM Amin Uddin expressed hope that the case would be resolved quickly. "The government has shown zero tolerance on this issue globally. I hope the hearing will conclude this month," he said. "A judge has gone to perform hajj. Once he returns, the hearing of the case will be concluded in two to three working days," asserted the attorney general.
Khandker Golam Faruq, Commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, expressed his condolences for the lives lost in the tragic incident. Faruq paid tribute to Assistant Commissioner Rabiul Karim and Inspector MA Salahuddin Khan, who lost their lives while attempting to rescue the hostages, by laying wreaths at their mural on the premises of the new Gulshan Police Station.
During a press interaction on Saturday, he emphasised that terrorism is currently under control and there are no active militant organizations, such as the JMB and Neo-JMB, in the country. He acknowledged, however, "The dormant seeds of terrorism may still exist. There have been attempts to establish new militant groups"