Dhaka: A British man who survived an Isis attack has been released from a prison in Bangladesh after more than two years of being held without charge over baseless terrorism accusations. Hasnat Karim had been celebrating his daughter’s 13th birthday at the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka on 1 July 2016 when militants burst in and massacred 22 people. Relatives said the former university professor, who is a British-Bangladeshi national, was forced to act as a human shield by jihadi gunmen who threatened to kill his children.
Karim and his family survived the atrocity, but he was imprisoned after being wrongly accused by Bangladeshi police of colluding with the terrorists. Relatives travelled to British embassies and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London to plead for officials to secure his freedom, but the appeals came to no avail until last week.
Authorities released the father-of-two from Kashimpur jail in Gazipur after police filed a charge sheet that did not name him among the accused. “Karim’s involvement was not found during any stage of investigations,” Monirul Islam, chief of Dhaka’s counter-terror police, said. “That’s why we have not included his name in the charge sheet.”
Karim’s wife, Sharmina Parveen, said she had feared her husband would be killed during the 10-hour ordeal. “I think they chose him because they knew he would not run away if his family were there too,” she said. “I cannot describe to you in words how it felt. They kept taking him away and then bringing him back and every time they took him I had no idea if we would ever see him again.”
The Isis militants massacred 22 people after ordering hostages to recite verses from the Quran and torturing anyone who could not, before the cafe was stormed by security services.
British man locked up without charge
The victims included nine Italians, seven Japanese, several Bangladeshis and students from America and India, while Bangladeshi police admitted mistakenly shooting the restaurant’s pizza chef dead after mistaking him for a militant. Isis published the names and photographs of militants who launched the attack but made no mention of Karim, who lived, studied and worked in the UK for decades before returning to his country of birth to teach.
He became a professor in the business faculty of Dhaka’s North South University in 2008, where one of the attackers had studied, but later left to run his father’s engineering business. Karim’s sister, Sabera Khan, said he had never been associated with extremists or criminality of any kind. “There was never any evidence, they searched every corner of his laptops, his phones, his offices, my family’s offices, they turned everything upside down – I don’t know why it took so long, I don’t know what they were looking for,” she said.
“It’s unbelievable because we didn’t know if he was going to make it out of the attack alive. We were so happy when he came out and then this happened.”