Bangladesh acquits student suspected in July cafe attack

October 2, 2016 1:46 PM EDT

Tahmid Hasib Khan, a student at Toronto University and one of the suspects of recent Gulshan attack is seen leaving the court in Dhaka, Bangladesh, August 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

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DHAKA (Reuters) - A man who was dining in a Dhaka cafe when it was attacked by Islamist militants and who was later detained as a suspect has been acquitted of terrorism charges and released on bail, police said on Sunday.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, was at the Holey Artisan Bakery on the evening of July 1 when it was stormed by militants, beginning a 12-hour siege in which 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, two police officers and six suspected attackers died.

In video footage filmed by witnesses and militants, Khan appeared holding a pistol and talking to the hostage-takers, but police said forensic analysis had shown the Toronto University student had been forced to do so.

Based on these findings and there being no witnesses or other evidence of Khan's involvement in the attack, a court in Dhaka had acquitted him, Masudur Rahman, spokesman of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police told Reuters.

Khan is the second person to be released without charge in an investigation that has led to only seven arrests, leading to criticism of the police by some newspapers and social media.

The cafe attack was the worst in a recent escalation of violence by Islamist militants in Bangladesh that has included a rise in killings of liberals and religious minorities in the mostly Muslim nation of 160 million.

Although Al Qaeda and Islamic State have been making competing claims of responsibility, the government has dismissed suggestions that Islamic State has a presence in Bangladesh, even though 'selfies' of some of the attackers posing with an automatic rifle were posted on the jihadi group's propaganda outlets during the siege.

Khan's case, and that of another man, Hasnat Karim, who has British and Bangladeshi dual citizenship, has also drawn criticism from human rights groups who say they were illegally detained and denied access to a lawyer.

Karim and Khan were among 32 survivors rescued by police and taken into custody for questioning. Karim, a 47-year-old engineer, was at the cafe with his family to celebrate his daughter's 13th birthday.

(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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