At least two convicts sentenced to death for their roles in a terror attack on the Holey Artisan restaurant have been found wearing prayer caps emblazoned with the Islamic State’s insignia on the court premises.
Authorities opened a probe into how the prayer caps reached the convicts while they were in police custody.
On Jul 1, 2016, the terrorists attacked Holey Artisan Bakery killing 22 people, including 17 foreign nationals. The 12-hour siege ended with bloodshed after military commandoes stormed the restaurant in a rescue operation, codenamed “Thunderbolt”.
Security forces shot dead five young attackers on the scene. Later, eight masterminds behind the cafe carnage died in a nationwide crackdown on militancy.
Only the eight suspects arrested faced the trial. On Wednesday, Judge Mojibur Rahman sentenced seven living suspects to death and acquitted another person.
The convicts are: Jahangir Hossain alias Rajib Gandhi, Rakibul Hasan Regan, Aslam Hossain alias Rashedul Islam alias Rash, Abdus Sabur Khan alias Soheil Mahfuz, Hadisur Rahman Sagar, Shariful Islam Khaled alias Khalid and Mamunur Rashid Ripon.
The other man named in the case, Mizanur Rahman alias Boro Mizan, has been acquitted as the charges against him could not be proved.
Before the verdict was read, the convicts were quite defiant. One of them showed a victory sign. Jahangir Hossain, clad in a black Punjabi, had a smile spread over his face with most of the others smiling and talking. Mamunur Rashid Ripon seemed a little reserved.
The convicts did not show any sign of remorse after the judgment. Prosecutors said the convicts yelled — “Allahu Akbar …we did nothing wrong, we’re Allah’s soldiers”.
Convict Rakibul Hasan Regan was seen wearing a special prayer cap with Arabic letters inscribed on it in a way similar to the Islamic State flag, when all the convicts were brought back from the dock.
Police were present at the scene though did not find it suspicious.
Jahangir Hossain, another convict, was seen wearing a similar cap while getting into the prison van. However, neither of them wore prayer caps to court.
Authorities gave conflicting statements on the issue.
“We couldn’t notice it earlier. We thought it was a casual prayer cap. There’s no scope for the convicts to get the caps from the court,” Deputy Police Commissioner Zafar Ahmed told bdnews24.com.
“Only one among the accused was wearing a white prayer cap when they went to court from here. Nobody else had caps,” jailer Mahbub Alam told bdnews24.com.
“I cannot comment on the issue, but it is the jail authority that should be accountable for it, as the accused came to court from prison. They can wear a prayer cap, but not the one that bears the logo of an organisation. This is not done,” said state counsel Abdullah Abu.
He called for an investigation into the issue. “I won’t say that there’s a negligence on the part of the jail authority, but there should be an investigation into how they got a cap similar to that of the IS?” he said adding the issue is ‘highly sensitive’.
“No such complaints were heard when the suspects arrived in court,” said Public Prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan Zakir.
On the other hand, defence lawyer Delwar Hossain said the accused had stayed in police custody for a long time. “I should not comment on what they were wearing. It’s an issue that belongs to the police.”
Counterterrorism police chief Monirul Islam said the caps could be inspired by the neo-JMB, not the Islamic State.
Someone supplied a prayer cap to Regan near the gate on the fifth floor on his way out of the courtroom, a police official who did not want to be named told bdnews24.com.
The matter should be investigated, Law Minister Anisul Huq told reporters in a press briefing following the verdict.
An investigation has opened, Deputy Commissioner Zafar Hossain later said. They are scrutinising video footage to see if the convicts brought the caps with them or someone passed those to them, he said.
“The convicts came back to the jailhouse following the verdict. But the prayer caps with the IS logo were not found on them,” said Mahbub Alam of the Dhaka Central Jail.
The jail authorities have also formed a three-strong committee headed by an additional inspector general of prisons to investigate the incident, IG Prisons AKM Mustafa Kamal Pasha told bdnews24.com.
“The committee will check whether there was any failure on our part. It has been asked to submit the report within five days,” he said.
He also said the authorities have strengthened security in the prisons across the country following the incident.