A Canadian University Student Held Hostage in Bangladesh, Then Branded a Suspect, Is Almost Free

The family of Tahmid Khan says he's doing OK.
October 3, 2016, 7:51pm

Tahmid Khan was inside the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe when gunmen raided the premises on a night in July, taking a group of mainly western diners hostage and then killing 20 of them, along with two police officers. Photo by CP

A Canadian university student who survived a brutal hostage attack in July in Bangladesh, was detained as a suspect in the aftermath and has now been cleared of any involvement, is physically and mentally OK, his family says.

Police found no link between Tahmid Khan and the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka's diplomatic quarter, according to a report by the Counterterrorism and Transnational Crime unit of the Dhaka police that was presented in court late last month.

Twenty-eight people died in the attack.

Khan, a Canadian permanent resident, was released on bail Sunday, his brother Talha Khan, who lives in Toronto, confirmed to VICE News.

"We're relieved, and this is definitely a step in the right direction," Talha said. "I'm glad that things are moving, and we're really grateful to people in Canada and his friends around the world who have shown support, and we're thankful to the Canadian government for observing the situation so closely."

Khan, a global health student, was en route to Nepal this summer to start an internship and had stopped over in Dhaka at the behest of his mother, who wanted him to spend Eid with the family.

He was in Holey Artisan Cafe with two friends on July 1 when it was stormed by militants, who killed 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, during a 12-hour siege. Six suspected militant and two police were also killed.

Khan was taken in for questioning after police raided the restaurant, rescuing the 13 remaining hostages.

According to police, Khan was released after being interrogated immediately after the attack. That runs contrary to statements from his family that the 22-year-old was in custody and unreachable until police announced he was being formally detained in August, under a section of Bangladesh's criminal code that allows police to hold someone without charge if there's a reasonable suspicion of criminal involvement.

And while he's been released on bail and cleared of all wrongdoing in relation to the attack, Khan's ordeal isn't over just yet. According to the Dhaka Tribune, he's awaiting an October 5 court hearing, during which a judge will decide whether or not to allow police to pursue a charge of non-cooperation against him, alleging that he failed to show up for questioning on two separate dates in July.

This, despite multiple public statements from police that month, indicating that Khan was being interrogated.

Khan's family and friends who have been campaigning vigorously for his release were overjoyed on Monday.

"The whole thing has felt really surreal. When he was originally detained, we had no idea, we never could've guessed that he would be detained for so long," said Khan's friend Jaclyn Marcil. "I'm extremely relieved. I'm glad he's out and he's safe."

"He's been through so much. The detainment alone is awful, but we can't forget what he saw and what he experienced, and what he did during the siege."

Several surviving hostages, speaking under condition of anonymity with the New York Times immediately after the attack, credited Khan with convincing the attackers not to kill the remaining hostages.

"The past three months have been brutal, just not being able to help him," said Josh Gondrin, one of the people behind a Facebook page campaigning for Khan's release, who describes him as his best friend. "Knowing now that he's free of all the accusations against him, which are ridiculous if you know Tahmid at all."

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter.