Family, friends call for release of U of T student held in Dhaka after attack

Family and friends of a University of Toronto student say he is being held by police in Bangladesh for questioning after he survived an attack at a Dhaka café and that he should be allowed to return to his family.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, survived attack in Bangladesh but was detained by police

Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, whose family says is a permanent resident of Canada, has been detained for questioning by authorities in Dhaka after a deadly attack on a café on the weekend. He was held hostage and survived the attack. (Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed)

Family and friends of a University of Toronto student say he is being held by police in Bangladesh for questioning after he survived an attack at a Dhaka café and that he should be allowed to return to his family.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, was detained on Saturday, immediately after authorities rescued him and 12 others from the Holey Artisan Bakery, his brother Talha Rahim Khan told CBC News in a brief interview.

Khan, who lives in Toronto, said his brother is a permanent resident of Canada. He came to Canada with his parents in 2004, stayed about a year and returned in 2012 to go to the University of Toronto. He said his brother has been diagnosed with epilepsy.

Khan said his brother was at the café to meet two of his friends when armed attackers stormed the restaurant, holding hostages for hours. The attack killed 20 hostages and two police officers. ISIS has claimed responsibility. 

"We are hoping and praying for the best. It's very hard for us emotionally. We are worried but we have faith in due process," he said.

He said the Bangladesh authorities are aware that his brother has epilepsy. His parents spoke to his brother on Sunday but they have no idea when he could be released. The parents have informed the University of Toronto of the situation. The university has confirmed he is a fourth-year student there.

"This is a complicated process," Khan said.
A collage of photos of Tahmid Hasib Khan has been posted on the newly created Facebook page 'Free Tahmid." (Facebook)

Rasheek Irtisam, Khan's cousin and a PhD candidate in finance at the University of Memphis but currently in Dhaka, said Tahmid Khan should be freed. 

"We can only imagine what he is going through after experiencing such a horrific incident. We would want the police to look [without bias] at his case and let him return to his family," he wrote in a post on a newly created Facebook page, "Free Tahmid," on Tuesday.

"The only thing right now that can stop the tears of his mother is the safe return of her son. How can we let his mother go through such agony as she is constantly blaming herself that she inadvertently brought this upon her son by making him come home?"

Khan said after attack: 'Dad, I am alive'

Irtisam said in an interview through Facebook chat that Khan was studying global health at the University of Toronto. He said Khan was supposed to go to Nepal directly from Canada to complete a summer internship with UNICEF. But he changed his plans, at his mother's request, to celebrate Eid with his family in Dhaka and arrived there on July 1. He was scheduled to leave on July 9.

The family chauffeur brought him to the café and was waiting for him when the attack occurred, Irtisam said. On the night of the attack, he said, Khan called his father from the café around 10 p.m. and said, "Dad, I am alive."

Irtisam said Khan is an active member of the Bangladeshi Student Association at the University of Toronto, where he regularly performed in cultural festivals as a rhythm and bass guitarist and has also acted in several plays. He said Khan came to Canada in about 2006.
Anil Wasif, a University of Toronto student and friend of Khan's, said he is worried that a hostage from the attack is being held as a suspect. (CBC)

"Tahmid is a very ambitious, young, energetic guy who wants to build his career in public health and eventually wants to work in the development sector," he said. 

Ottawa keeping an eye on situation

Rachna Mishra, media relations officer for Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa, said according to Global Affairs Canada and consular officials at the High Commission of Canada in Dhaka, there are no reports of a Canadian citizen affected or detained following the attack in Dhaka. A permanent resident does not have Canadian citizenship, however.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the Dhaka attack, their family and their friends. Canada stands with the Bangladeshi people in face of terror attack in Dhaka and reaffirm our commitment to fight terrorism," Mishra said in a statement. "We continue to monitor the situation closely."

Anil Wasif, a University of Toronto student and a friend of Khan's, said he is concerned for his friend.

"As time passes, we are his friends and family, we are bound to be worried when a person who just came out as a hostage is being held for so long."

"We know the truth inside our hearts. We want the slate to be cleared," he said. "We want him to carry on with his life, exactly as if that night never happened."

Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed, a family friend of the Khans in Dhaka, said friends set up a Facebook group on Tuesday after news circulated that Khan was being detained. He said he has known Khan since he was three years old.

"All of us are utterly surprised," he said. "We set up this group to create a public pressure so he gets justice and not victimized. He is being suspected as the attackers are from same age group as he is and from similar educational background.

"The government should say clearly why the victim of such a terrible incident is being detained for so long. There is no transparency here."

In Dhaka, according to The Associated Press, authorities are still holding five of the 13 hostages rescued when commandos stormed the restaurant Saturday morning, killing six of the attackers and capturing one. All five are Bangladesh citizens, AP reported Tuesday.

With files from The Associated Press