On the anniversary of the Dhaka terror attack, the former employees at Holey Artisan Bakery reluctantly relived the horror of the night in which 28 people died.
The Dhaka Tribune managed to speak to some of the staff from Holey at their new location, which opened at an upscale supermarket on January 10.
On July 1, 2016, only a few days before Eid-ul-Fitr, five gunmen entered Holey’s sprawling premises, next to Gulshan 2 lake, and opened fire on customers dining in the garden and took the rest hostage around 8:40pm.
[caption id="attachment_71729" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
The original premises of Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, Dhaka, where the attack took place, now lays abandoned Mahmud Hossain Opu
Since the establishment was frequented by foreigners, 16 people among the murdered were Italian and Japanese nationals. Two policemen, an Indian, a Bangladeshi-American and three Bangladeshis were also killed before the army stormed the restaurant at dawn and killed the militants.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, one of the four staff members present during the attack, Shahrier Ahmed, said: “I am still haunted by that night. The memories are etched in my mind. Even now when I have nothing to do or am alone, I ahve flashbacks from the attack.
[caption id="attachment_71730" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Shahrier Ahmed. Photo:Rajib Dhar
“I am the sole breadwinner for my family. Working at the new Holey is different. I was a barista at the old Holey and things were great before the attack. But it will probably never be the same again.”
Shahrier and the other staff were well paid before the attack. However, the shift to a smaller location with a more limited menu resulted in lowered salaries and unavailability of some previous positions.
The former barista was working in the Coffee and Pastry room when they were attacked. He was brought to the main hall, where he was held hostage until the next morning.
[caption id="attachment_71731" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Aminul Islam Suhin. Photo:Rajib Dhar
Popilson John Cheran, was working as a waiter at Holey and currently works at Sushi Samurai in Gulshan.
On the night of the attack, Popilson was serving Hasnat Karim’s table. Soon after, the Japanese patrons sitting at the next table noticed someone knocking on the nearest door and asked him to open it.
Popilson noticed the person knocking on the door was a young man with a gun and refused him entry.
The man started firing through the glass door, causing the employees to run and take cover behind the building. Foreign patrons took cover under the tables.
Popilson said: “My first thought was that it was someone from law enforcement, but I realised very quickly that it was a terrorist attack.
“Since the terrorists were targeting foreigners and non-Muslims, I was afraid since I am a Christian. I hid on the second floor bakery room behind a mixing machine for 15 minutes and then climbed through the window to the roof. There were 15-16 of my colleagues there, and two foreigners.
[caption id="attachment_71732" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Din Islam Rakib. Photo:Rajib Dhar
“While I was hiding, I heard guests screaming and the terrorists shouting. I mentally prepared to fight back if they found me.”
Popilson finally escaped the scene at 10:30pm after jumping onto the roof of the next house.
One month after the incident, he joined Fantasium, a children’s party centre in Pink City. He is constantly reminded and traumatised by the memories.
He hopes that such incidents never happen again anywhere.
“After the incident, the owners of the Holey Artisan Bakery helped us a lot. They gave us three months’ wages, and assured us they would provide any assistance we needed. When I went to meet one of the owners after Holey reopened, he assured me that the new location would be like the old one very soon and that former staff would be hired again,” Popilson told the Dhaka Tribune.
Some of the staff became extremely nervous when approached about the incident.
[caption id="attachment_71733" align="aligncenter" width="900"]
Popilson John cheran. Photo:Rajib Dhar
Cooks Aminul Islam Suhin and Din Islam Rakib told the correspondent that they were not too keen to talk about their experiences.
“We want to forget that horrible night.”
Suhin said: “We never thought that we would be free and see another day. When I spoke to my mother that night, I told her that I may not be able to see her again and asked her to pray for us.”
Suhin and Rakib were forced to cook for the terrorists that night. They followed the instructions diligently, while the bloody knives used to butcher their regular patrons were in clear view.
Rakib said: “We still have our customers, but the family-friendly environment of the last location is lost. All our guests were familiar with the staff. But now, we are confined to serving our customers in this tiny new venue inside a supermarket.”
When Ali Arsalan, one of Holey’s co-owners was contacted, he said that profits were down by 40% because of the small venue of the new location. However, he hopes to restore Holey to its former glory.