By Robin Gomes
Seven members of an Islamist militant group in Bangladesh were handed death sentences on Wednesday by a special court in Dhaka. They were accused for their role in a 2016 attack on a café in the capital in which 22 people were killed, mostly foreigners.
The Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal of Dhaka ordered the deaths by hanging for their role, which included training the attackers and supplying them arms, explosives and funds.
One of the eight accused was acquitted.
Five young militants, armed with guns, sharp weapons and grenades stormed the Holey Artisan cafe in Dhaka’s upscale diplomatic quarters on July 1 and took diners hostage, killing them over 12 hours.
Nine Italians, seven Japanese, an American and an Indian were among the dead, in Bangladesh's worst Islamist attack. Army commandos stormed the building, rescuing 13 hostages and killing all attackers.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, but the government blamed it on the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a home-grown Islamist group outlawed in the country.
“Charges against them were proved beyond any doubt,” public prosecutor Golam Sarwar Khan told reporters after the verdict.
Defence lawyer Delwar Hossain said the seven men would appeal, explaining the verdict was given hastily. “We are not happy with the verdict. We will appeal to the higher court,” he said.
Ahead of the verdict, security in and around the court was beefed up, with many from the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion on high alert.
At least 80 suspected militants were killed and more than 300 people arrested during a wave of operations that followed the attack.
The Catholic Church is against the use of the death penalty, with Pope Francis last year authorizing changes in the Catechism of the Catholic Church according to which capital punishment is inadmissible.
The Pope has been very vocal, urging for the abolition of the death penalty saying it is a serious violation of the right to life of every person. In a message to the “World Congress Against the Death Penalty” in Brussels, Belgium earlier this year he said that the condemned need to be offered the possibility to change life.