A court in Bangladesh today sentenced seven members of a banned Islamic militant group to death for a deadly cafe attack in 2016 that left 22 people dead. Judge Mojibur Rahman of a special anti-terrorism tribunal in capital Dhaka found the members of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahedin Bangladesh (JMB) group guilty of financing and planning the attack, making bombs and murder. The verdict and sentence were handed down in a packed courtroom amid heavy security. One other person on trial was acquitted and released. On July 1, 2016, five Islamic militants stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in the upscale Gulshan area of Dhaka and killed 20 people including 17 foreigners. Two policemen were also killed. Military commandos later killed the militants following a 12-hour standoff. The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities blamed it on homegrown Islamic militants.
The attack was the culmination of a sharp rise in Islamic militancy in Bangladesh since 2013 that saw about 50 people, including atheist writers, liberal academics, Islamic and religious minorities and foreigners, murdered. Prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan called the verdict and sentences the “shredding of national shame.” “The verdict has delivered justice for a heinous crime that intended to tarnish the image of Bangladesh globally. The militants had no connection with Islamic State and they planned, financed and executed the attack independently,” Khan told reporters. He said the condemned didn’t show any sign of remorse or repentance when the judgment was delivered. “They shouted ‘Allah-u-Akbar’ [Allah is great] as they were sentenced to death. The state will appeal against the acquittal of one militant,” he added. The Church does not support the death penalty but the fast-track trial for this complex and sensitive case was a milestone, said Holy Cross Father Liton H. Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops' Justice and Peace Commission. “Militancy is a global problem and Bangladesh has also faced serious trouble due to militancy. It is good to see the authorities were able to complete the trial quickly and send a symbolic message that extremism and violence in the name of religion cannot be tolerated,” Father Gomes told ucanews. “However, there is no reason to be complacent, because militancy is a movement, and we must continue anti-militancy activities including crackdowns so that any possible threat can be neutralized beforehand,” the priest added. Nur Khan, a Dhaka-based human rights activist, echoed similar concerns. “The drive against militancy has eased up right now, which could allow militant outfits to regroup and plan more attacks,” Khan told ucanews. “There is no reason to be cheerful by claiming there is no Islamic State in Bangladesh, but we would be fools if we don’t realize Islamic State is not an organization but a strong, misleading and dangerous ideology.”
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