Bangladesh sentences seven to death for Dhaka cafe attack

Five militants took hostages and opened fire on Holey Artisan Bakery in 2016, killing 20

Police escort detainees (C) accused of allegedly plotting the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe attack, carried out by Islamist militants, to a courtroom for their trial in Dhaka on November 27, 2019. Five young men armed with guns and knives stormed the cafe on July 1, 2016 taking dozens hostage and killing 22 people. / AFP / Munir UZ ZAMAN
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An anti-terrorism tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced seven members of a banned militant group to death on Wednesday over an attack on a Dhaka cafe that killed 20 people three years ago.

Judge Mojibur Rahman found the men from the Jumat ul Mujahedeen Bangladesh group guilty of charges including planning the attack, making bombs and murder.

Mr Rahman announced the decision in front of a packed courtroom amid heavy security.

Five militants took hostages and opened fire on the Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, 2016. Twenty hostages were killed, including 17 from Japan, Italy and India.

The five, including the group's commanders, were killed by commandos during a 12-hour standoff at the cafe, which was popular with westerners.

ISIS claimed responsibility but the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected it, saying the domestic group was behind it.

Eight others, including organiser Tamim Chowdhury, a Canadian of Bangladesh descent, were killed during raids in Dhaka and its suburbs months after the attack.

Counter-terrorism police said Rohan Imtiaz, 19, led the attack.

Police have also blamed group for most of the extremist attacks in the South Asian country since the late 1990s.

University of Oslo researcher Mubashar Hasan called the verdict "a milestone", saying he hoped it would "give some sort of closure to the victims".

Japan's top government spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, did not comment on the ruling but thanked Dhaka "that the trial on this case was carried out promptly".

Defence lawyer Dalwar Hossain said there would be an appeal, claiming police had extracted confessions through torture.

An eighth man who had been charged was acquitted.

The hostage crisis marked an increase in extremist attacks after murders claimed by ISIS and Al Qaeda of rights activists, gay people, foreigners and religious minorities.

The assault was also as a major blow to Bangladesh's image as a moderate Muslim nation and the secular government later launched a massive crackdown in which more than 100 extremists were killed and nearly 1,000 arrested.

Dhaka has repeatedly denied that international networks have a presence in the country but the ISIS-linked news agency Amaq published extensive details of the attack, including photos from inside the cafe.

The verdict followed the recent arrest of nearly two dozen suspected extremists.

Three extremists were also sentenced to death on Monday over the murder of one of their leaders in 2012.