In mosques, temples, churches and pagodas across the country devotees remember victims in prayer
Two Bangladeshi women place flowers at the memorial site of Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka on July 1, to mark the first anniversary of the country's worst terrorist attack that left 22 people killed, most of them foreigners. (Photo by Mahmud Hossain Opu)
Bangladesh marked the first anniversary of the deadly Dhaka cafe siege by reiterating calls for a strong, united approach to violent extremism and militancy.
On July 1 hundreds of tearful mourners flocked to the site of the Holey Artisan Bakery, a cafe in the diplomatic zone in the Gulshan area of Dhaka and placed flowers in memory of the victims of the country's worst terrorist attack.
A year ago five Bangladeshi-born militants barged into the cafe brandishing assault rifles, grenades and swords and killed 20 civilians and two policemen.
Most of the victims were foreigners — nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian and three Bangladeshi students home from studying in the U.S. The cafe was retaken the next morning after the militants were gunned down in a military operation.
Sunni jihadist group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the militants its "foot soldiers." The Bangladesh government claimed the terrorists were from the banned local extremist group Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB).
Amid tight police security, mourners including political leaders, diplomats and civil society members gathered at the site of the two-storied white cafe, reopened only for four hours to the public.
The cafe has been moved to a more secure location, while the owners have restored the site as their residence.
An attack on heritage
Minister of Culture, Asaduzzaman Noor, said the tragedy was an attack on culture.
"We have a long history of rich culture and liberal practices. This attack was also an attack on our culture and heritage," Noor told reporters.
The country is slowly overcoming the threat of militant terror with constant anti-terror efforts, he said.
"The attack shocked the world and many thought Bangladesh would never recover from it. But we have slowly overcome this difficult situation; although many things still need to be done," he added.
At the Central Language Martyrs’ Memorial in Dhaka, hundreds of cultural activists held a 'peace rally' and lit candles to pay tribute to the victims, while denouncing radicalism.
"Our hearts are laden with sorrow and pain, but we must transform them into strength, to fight against the evil of terror and extremism," Ramendu Majumder, a prominent playwright said during the rally.
In mosques, temples, churches and pagodas across the country devotees remembered the victims in prayer and silence.
"In all churches, Catholics remembered the victims of the Gulshan tragedy, prayed for the wellbeing of their family members during the weekday Mass. They prayed that such violence never happens again,” said Father Kamal Corraya, parish priest of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Tejgaon, Dhaka.
Force is not the only solution
Activists and security analysts have lauded the government for its anti-terror measures, but warned that it is only one of many approaches to combat extremism.
Since the cafe carnage, about 70 top and mid-level militants were killed including the 'mastermind' of the cafe attack and dozens were arrested in a series of security crackdown measures.
The government instructed mosques to deliver anti-militancy sermons, while one million Islamic clerics signed a fatwa (Islamic ruling) to denounce militancy.
"Use of force can bring quick results, it cannot eradicate militancy unless there is a multi-pronged approach to de-radicalization," said Major Gen. (retired) M. Muniruzzaman, a Dhaka-based security analyst.
"There must be a strong and united social, political and religious consensus and commitment against militancy, and most importantly a counter ideology. It must be an ongoing process and it should involve people from all walks of life," he added.
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