Toronto

Family of U of T student held in Bangladesh after attack asks Trudeau for help

The family of a University of Toronto student detained after an attack on a Bangladesh cafe has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office to ask him to intervene in the case, a Toronto lawyer says.

Brother of Tahmid Khan says family has lost contact with him in Dhaka

The family of Tahmid Khan has not heard from him in about a week. His father has been hospitalized with chest pains, while his mother has suffered an emotional breakdown. Tahmid, pictured here, is known for his love of animals. (Facebook)

The family of a University of Toronto student detained after an attack on a Bangladesh cafe has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office to ask him to intervene in the case, a Toronto lawyer says.

Marlys Edwardh, a lawyer with Goldblatt Partners in Toronto, said a letter was sent to the prime minister on Monday.

Tahmid Khan, 22, a Canadian permanent resident, was taken into custody in Dhaka following a hostage-taking on July 1. His family has lost contact with him.

Talha Khan, brother of Tahmid, said the family is very concerned and the worry is taking its toll.

"We want to know why he is being held, as a witness, or as a suspect," Talha said. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing in his life points towards any sort of extremism."

Talha said his father, who is currently in Bangladesh, has been hospitalized with chest pains, while his mother has suffered an emotional breakdown.

"We know he is in Dhaka but where exactly we don't know," Talha said.

The family sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office on Monday, asking him to intervene in the case

According to a Facebook page, entitled Free Tahmid, the whereabouts of Tahmid are not known.

"We can confirm that he has NOT been released to his family," a post on the Facebook from earlier today reads. "This is an extremely difficult time for the family. We have just learnt that his father has collapsed and been hospitalized this morning and is on the critical care unit."

Talha, with the help of Edwardh, has written letters to Global Affairs Canada Minister Stéphane Dion and Nayem Uddin Ahmed, acting Bangladesh high commissioner in Ottawa. Neither have responded to the letters sent last Tuesday.

The letter to Dion asks the federal government to provide consular assistance to Tahmid, while the letter to Ahmed asks the Bangladesh government to clear the way for Canadian consulate officials to help. Talha is a Canadian citizen, while Tahmid is a permanent resident of Canada.

Austin Jean, spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, said in an email to CBC News: "There are limits to what any country can do for individuals who are not citizens of that country."

Tahmid went to Bangladesh to celebrate Eid with his family. He was detained immediately after the attack. He was at Holey Artisan Bakery to meet two of his friends when armed attackers stormed the restaurant, holding hostages for nearly 11 hours. The attack killed 20 hostages and two police officers. ISIS has claimed responsibility.

Khan, an undergraduate student studying global health at the University of Toronto, had planned to go on to Nepal after visiting his family to start an internship this week.

Tahmid a student 'in good standing'

Meric Gertler, the University of Toronto president, also wrote a letter to Dion on behalf of Tahmid last week. He told the minister that the university would be pleased to offer any assistance that it can and the school is concerned about the "safety and fair treatment" of Tahmid.

Gertler confirmed that Tahmid is a student "in good standing, is actively progressing towards a degree, and is involved in university-related extra-curricular activities, as well as sports and music."

"I recognize that Global Affairs Canada will be working through appropriate diplomatic channels to ascertain the facts and to advocate with colleagues in Bangladesh for Mr. Khan's rights," he wrote.

Talha said he is not sure what else the family can do at this point.

"We've done everything that can be done. We've reached out to the government in Canada, we have reached out to the government in Bangladesh, now it's up to the authorities to make their decision. We just want them to not take so much time, and be just in whatever they do," he said.

"We understand that it's a national security issue, but at least if my parents could go and see him, that would be some kind of solace," he said. "At least communication to begin with."

With files from CBC News

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