A Toronto student who was dining in Bangladesh café when it was attacked by Islamist militants and later detained as a suspect is now safe at his parents’ home in Dhaka after being acquitted of terrorism charges, according to his brother.
Police said Sunday that Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, was acquitted of the charges and released on bail. His brother, Talha Khan, who is in Toronto, told CBC News he doesn’t know the circumstance of Tahmid’s release, calling it “complex.” But he said he’s “relieved” after hearing the news from his cousins in Dhaka and London.
Khan’s cousin Ali Faiyaz, who lives in Dhaka, confirms the Toronto student is faring well and is with his parents while out on bail.
Khan was at the Holey Artisan Bakery on the evening of July 1 when it was stormed by militants, beginning a 12-hour siege in which 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, two police officers and six suspected attackers died.
In video footage filmed by witnesses and militants, Khan appeared holding a pistol and talking to the hostage-takers, but police said forensic analysis had shown the University of Toronto student had been forced to do so.
Based on these findings and a lack of other evidence of Khan’s involvement in the attack, a court in Dhaka acquitted him of terrorism, Masudur Rahman, spokesman of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police told Reuters.
Josh Grondin, a friend and fellow student of Khan’s, also welcomed the development.
“We’ve known that he is innocent all along so it’s really nice to see that the Bangladeshi authorities have realized that now too,” Grondin said.
Dispute over missed interview allegations
However, Grondin told CBC News Khan isn’t yet in the clear, as authorities in Bangladesh are still considering charging Khan with not cooperating on the investigation, alleging that he missed interviews with police on July 10th and 21st — a period which his supporters maintained he had unfairly been in police custody.
Khan is the second person to be released in an investigation that has led to only seven arrests, leading to criticism of the police by some newspapers and social media.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told CBC News on Sunday that the government is in contact with Khan’s family, his legal counsel and Bangladesh authorities concerning the case.
“Due to privacy considerations, further details cannot be disclosed,” said Jessica Seguin.
Competing claims of responsibility
The café attack was the worst in a recent escalation of violence by Islamist militants in Bangladesh that has included a rise in killings of liberals and religious minorities in the mostly Muslim nation of 160 million.
Although al-Qaeda and Islamic State have been making competing claims of responsibility, the government has dismissed suggestions that Islamic State has a presence in Bangladesh, even though “selfies” of some of the attackers posing with an automatic rifle were posted on the jihadi group’s propaganda outlets during the siege.
Khan’s case, and that of another man, Hasnat Karim, who has British and Bangladeshi dual citizenship, has also drawn criticism from human rights groups who say they were illegally detained and denied access to a lawyer.
Karim and Khan were among 32 survivors rescued by police and taken into custody for questioning. Karim, a 47-year-old engineer, was at the café with his family to celebrate his daughter’s 13th birthday.
As for when Khan might return to Canada, Grondin says he expects the bureaucracy might take some time to play out.
Nevertheless he says, “It will happen soon, hopefully.”
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