Just the evening before Islamic festival Eid, five Islamist militants attacked a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The horrible incident took place on 1 July 2016 which took away 29 lives. The restaurant ‘The Holey Artisan Bakery and O’Kitchen’ in Gulshan, Dhaka’s leafiest, most exclusive area was filled up, mostly with Japanese and Italian customers.
Five young militants burst in shooting and began hacking at the diners with sharp weapons.
Survivor Shishir speaks:
Shishir Sarker, one of the Holey Artisan’s chefs, was coming out of the refrigerated chiller room with a plate of pasta when he heard shouting.
“Then I saw one of the attackers – in one hand he had a sword or machete, and a gun was slung across his chest,” Sarker recalls.
“At that moment, a Japanese man shouted to me: ‘Help me!’,” he says. “I turned and went back inside the chiller, and helped him in too.”
Both of them went into a damn scary situation when one of the attackers tried to open the chiller door.
“We held on to it very hard and he failed. He went away, but now they knew someone was inside.”
And 10 or 15 minutes later the militant came back.
“We were so cold, we were losing our strength,” Sarker says. The attacker hauled the door open.
“He told me to come out. I was so frightened I immediately fell on to the ground and lay there. I thought if I was standing, he might chop me with his machete. I was repeatedly saying: ‘For Allah’s sake, don’t kill me.’
“I crawled on my hands and knees over dead bodies and blood. Then suddenly I heard two shots. The Japanese man with me in the chiller was dead” The gunmen assumed him to be a Muslim.
“We sat at the table with other members of staff, all of them with their heads down. After 02:00, one of the militants asked who the chef was. My colleagues pointed me. They then took me to the kitchen.”
“They asked me what food we had, and whether if we had sea bass and shrimps. I said, yes we had. They told me to fry it, and decorate it nicely on a plate.”
“While I was cooking, one of the militants came into the kitchen. He asked me what my name was. I just said my name was Shishir – I didn’t tell him my second name because that would have revealed that I’m Hindu.”
The militant asked Sarker to recite from the Koran.
“All my life I’ve had Muslim friends, so I knew some Surah [chapters of the Koran]. But I was so frightened. I was thinking – would I satisfy him?”
In keeping with Islamic tradition during Ramadan, the food was served before dawn to the Muslim hostages and to the staff.
“I was so scared, when I ate I couldn’t swallow the food. But I thought if I didn’t eat, they would think I wasn’t going to fast the following day, and then they would guess I wasn’t Muslim,” says Sarker.
“Soon after sunrise, Operation Thunderbolt, a commando-led assault with armoured personnel carriers – ended the siege. The five militants lay dead.I and my surviving colleagues were rescued.”
Though it’s been seven months the incident took place but life doesn’t seem to be the same for Sarker.
“I don’t see any future. I can’t sleep properly. Whenever I’m alone and I think of that night, I just can’t do anything – I feel terrified.”