Hasnat Karim is the most talked-about name ever since the July 1 terrorist attack on Holey Artisan Bakery in Gulshan, Dhaka last year.
Aiming to celebrate his daughter's birthday, Hasnat had gone to the upscale restaurant with his wife, Sharmina Karim, and two children – Shefa Karim and Raihan Karim. Like others inside the upscale restaurant, he and his family were held hostage when armed terrorists barged into it around 9pm.
They were finally rescued the next morning. After the video footage filmed by a foreigner and a photo of Hasnat with one of the attackers were published, he became talk of the town. Many started believing that he was linked with the attackers.
Members of Counter Terrorism and Transitional Crime unit of police interrogated him for quite some time. A month after the attack, he was arrested under Section 54 on August 3, 2016. After an eight-day remand, he was shown arrested in the case filed over the incident. He is now behind bars.
CTTC chief Monirul Islam said: “Hasnat's involvement in the incident is not clear as yet. Investigation is still ongoing and after its completion, the matter will be clear. So, it will not be wise to make any comment about his link with the attack yet.”
Investigators said Hasnat, in police interrogation, described what had happened that night.
He said: “My daughter's birthday was on July 1. Since it was Ramadan, my wife did not invite guests at our home. So, we opted to celebrate the occasion at Holey Artisan Bakery. We left home after 8:30pm. But, when the attackers stormed the scene, we were checking menus. It was around 8:45pm.”
They played an audio recording pledging their allegiance to IS, expressing their hatred towards democracy. They said CIA was doing unauthorised practice and putting moderate government in Muslim countries
He said: “I first heard the sound of something loud at the table behind us. As I was not sure of what was happening, I tried to look back. But, at the very moment, some armed people stormed the restaurant shouting Allahu Akbar. Then they shot some people, attacking them with sharp weapons. One of them came to our table, saying they would not harm us, asking us to sit on another table a little far away.”
Then Hasnat and his family sat at a table adjacent to the main gate.
“Afterwards, the attackers took Tahmid Hasib Khan, Fairuz Maliha and Tahana (Fairuz's friend) to our table. Then another person (Dr Sat Prakash) came to our table. At that moment, Nibras talked to us and asked me many questions. He queried me if I am a Muslim, say my prayers and cast vote etc. I told him that I say my prayers and do not cast vote. He then asked me to recite Sura Fatiha and I did so. He asked me the meaning of the Sura, but I failed to do that properly.”
By then, the people learnt about the incident due to media coverage. Relatives were phoning the hostage victims. Even the phone of those, who had already died, were ringing. Then Hasnat and the others, who were held hostage, were still not sure if they will survive.
Hasnat said: “The militants was even asking if any body can inform the police or the media about the situation. Since then, I was getting many phone calls and so were the other hostages. I informed the matter to my uncle (Anwarul Karim). I asked him to let others know about the incident. At one stage, the militants came to us again, asking if we were using the internet on our phones. Primarily, I kept mum, but I finally had to admit that I had internet connection. Nibras asked me the play store mobile app on my phone and search for Wickr.
After I selected that, they took away my phone and also those of Fairuz and Tahana.”
The militants then made the hostages sit, putting their head down on table. Later on, they asked Hasnat to lock a door. Hasnat said: “We kept out heads down for the next few hours. We were allowed access to toilet. Afterwards, Rohan asked how many of us had family there.
“Rohan then asked me to close a door outside and lock it. Later, he forced me to walk to a corner, asking me to pick up a black phone.”
Hasnat said the attackers separated the male and female hostages.
“I noticed that they were communicating, mainly by texting using mobile phones. At one point, one attacker informed another that they were instructed to confirm their high command about the deaths. Since our faces were downwards, we could not see who they were. I think they wanted to confirm that all, who they shot, got killed. Hence, they started hitting the deceased with sharp weapons. But, some of them were still alive when the attackers were hacking them as they they screaming. It was between 1am and 2:30am.”
The militants had some food cooked, which they served as Sehri meal to the hostage victims. At gunpoint, some of them had had the meal. Then, one militant talked supporting the activities of Islamic State. Meanwhile, one of them took away Hasnat's driving licence.
He said: “Around 3:15am, they asked us to get up and sit down for Sehri, saying we must observe fast. I was heading towards toilet around 4:30am. Rohan stopped me and asked if I had any identification card with me. Then I offered him if he wanted to see my national ID card. He then answered any ID card would do. Later, they played audio recording of their leader, which was pledging their allegiance to IS and explaining their belief that expresses hatred towards democracy. They were saying CIA was doing unauthorised practice and putting moderate government in Muslim countries.”
Hasnat said: “We again had to sit for an hour or so. Since the rays of sunshine were seen outside, I was sure that it was between 4:45am and 6am. Then, Rohan came to us. He put his hand on my shoulder, asking me and Tahmid to stand up. Later he asked me to go upstairs and was trying to give a pistol to Tahmid, but he was rejecting it. I looked at a nearby building and was thinking if the police or anybody else were watching us. I was also thinking when and how the hostage crisis would end. Rohan asked me walk by the lake and pointed his hand there where someone was waiting for him. He said people were waiting at one side, while the police on the other with snipers. Then he mentioned a building adjoining Lake View Clinic and said some policemen were on its roof. I was frightened that either he or the police would shoot me. But, that was the only chance to convince him to release us and end the crisis. Rohan asked us about how we think the crisis would be resolved or if it would end. We just requested him to free us.”
After Hasnat and Tahmid were sent back inside, at one stage the militants released all the hostage victims and returned their cell phones. They ordered Hasnat to open the gate, helping them come out of the scene. They then instructed all to leave the restaurant.
Hastant said: “At one point, Rohan asked us to go inside from the roof. Then we waited for another hour there. Afterwards, one militant came to our table and put two keys before me, asking me open a gate.
“I was also told to keep the gate open, if succeeded. Then I became confident that he would let us all go. Later I saw Nibras coming downstairs with a number of phones. He permitted us to take our phones. Rohan then asked us to stand up and informed us that we were free to go.
“I came out of the restaurant building walking with my daughter with my wife and son following us. Gradually, Fairuz, Tahana, Tahmid and then Sat Prakash came out. We walked outside through the gate I managed to open. We finally came out of the restaurant premises and were heading towards BJMC Bhaban, from where the police rescued us.”