A Canadian university student and British professor who were detained in Bangladesh without charge for their alleged involvement in the July terrorist attack at a Dhaka restaurant have been formally arrested, according to local reports.
On Thursday, the two men appeared in court as suspects in the massacre claimed by the Islamic State that left 22 people — mostly foreigners — dead.
Tahmid Hasib Khan, a University of Toronto student, and Hasnat Karim, a British national and former professor at the same school some of the suspected attackers attended, were arrested on Wednesday night, according to Bengali newspaper Prothom Alo.
Neither of the men have been charged with an offense, but arrested under a section of Bangladesh's criminal code that allows remand without charge. On Thursday, a court granted police permission to question both of them for eight days. The country's counter-terrorism unit had asked for a 10-day remand.
The whereabouts of Khan and Karim were unknown for weeks since Dhaka police publicly claimed to have released them on July 3. The police's statement that the pair was arrested in a residential neighborhood of the city runs counter to their families, who say they have been in custody since the attack.
Karim and Khan were two of 13 hostages who survived a bloody attack in which gunmen stormed a cafe in Dhaka's diplomatic zone and killed 20 people. Two policemen also died in the 12-hour siege. Five of the suspected attackers were killed and one is in custody.
Khan's older brother Talha, who lives in Toronto, wasn't immediately available for comment but told VICE News several weeks ago that his family was assured the 22-year-old was safe and being held by a national security agency, but it was never specified which one.
Khan has received a great deal of support from his friends who have continued to vouch for his character and the University of Toronto, where he was actively involved in the Bangladeshi Students' Association. An active Facebook page called "Free Tahmid" has over 68,000 likes.
The family wrote to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion for help, and according to a source quoted by the Toronto Star, the Canadian government has since reached out to Bangladeshi authorities. There are limits, however, to how much can be done since Khan wasn't a Canadian citizen.
According to his family, the global health student was on his way to Nepal for an internship and stopped in Dhaka to spend Eid there, on the request of his mother.
Talha told VICE News that Khan, a musician, is the "total antithesis" of an ISIS recruit. He also said Canadian intelligence agencies had been in contact with him, looking for more information and a connection between Khan and Tamim Chowdhury, a former Windsor, Ont. resident who is allegedly heading up IS's operations in Bangladesh.
His cousin Aliza Delwar, who has been trying for weeks from Toronto to get more information from the police, was shocked to hear the news.
"This really doesn't make any sense," she said. "I don't know what they're basing this on, but there's nothing to support it... I think the people responsible for this are getting away with it."
A statement from Karim's family said he is innocent and has no links to any terrorist group — that he and his family were celebrating his daughter's 13th birthday when they "became the victims of a terrorist attack."
According to Karim's London-based lawyer Rodney Dixon, the family survived the attack because they were able to recite verses of the Koran and prove to the attackers that they were Muslims.
According to Dixon, Karim' received a phone call from his uncle during the siege. The attackers asked that he return the call and tell his uncle to "let police know not to proceed towards the cafe? or the hostages would be killed."
"The gunmen then made Hasnat 'walk in front [of them] as a body shield' as they tried to secure the premises and see where the police were," said the lawyer. "Several witnesses reported seeing a bald man talking to and walking with the gunmen."
Dixon refutes police's claims that Khan was fired from his job as a lecturer at North South University because of his links to a "militant organization," saying he actually left to work as a civil engineer alongside his father.
"Now that his whereabouts are finally known, the family cannot feel relief as the nightmare is not yet over," said the family's statement. "They are willing to cooperate fully with the authorities to prove his innocence.
Dixon said "the authorities have had more than sufficient time to make any inquiries."
"There is clearly no evidence to charge him and he should be let go without any further delay."
Human rights groups, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been calling for the two men to be released, saying they were being detained illegally.
It took weeks until Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan admitted that one of Karim was even being held.
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk