Bangladesh court accepts murder charges for 2016 attack

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A special tribunal on Wednesday accepted murder and other charges against eight suspected Islamic militants in a grisly attack on a restaurant two years ago in Bangladesh's capital.

Twenty hostages, including 17 people from Japan, Italy and India, were killed when five militants attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in 2016. The militants were killed by commandoes inside the cafe during a 12-hour standoff. Two security officials later succumbed to injuries in a hospital.

Judge Mujibur Rahman of the Anti-Terrorism Special Tribunal in Dhaka accepted the charges and set the next hearing for Aug. 16. Six of the accused are behind bars while two are fugitives.

The judge also asked authorities to release former university teacher and British citizen Hasnat Karim after he was cleared by police as a suspect last month. During the attack he was in the cafe with his family and was seen talking to the attackers casually on the roof. The investigators said they found no evidence of his involvement.

The police investigation has found that 21 people were involved in the July 1, 2016, attack but 13 have been killed by security officials in raids, according to case documents.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, but authorities insisted it has no presence in the country and instead blamed a domestic group, Jumatual Mujahedeen Bangladesh.

The cafe siege followed several years of smaller attacks targeting scores of individuals deemed by extremists to be enemies of radical Islam, including secularists, writers, religious minorities, foreigners and activists.

Bangladesh has experienced a rise in Islamic militancy in recent years, but the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched a massive crackdown, saying it is following a policy of zero tolerance of radical Islamists. Since the attack, authorities have captured or killed dozens of suspects and said Jumatual Mujahedeen Bangladesh has been weakened if not eliminated completely.

The cafe reopened in January last year a few blocks away from its old site.

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