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14 January 2017

‘I escaped death by reciting from the Koran’

Islamist militants would have killed Shishir Sarker if they'd known he was a Hindu

When five armed Islamist militants stormed a restaurant in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 1 July 2016, 29 people lost their lives. Emerging from the appalling, bloody debris are stories of immense courage. There are also unanswered questions about what happened to some of those who died.
It was about 20:45 on a Friday evening just before the Islamic festival of Eid. The restaurant – the Holey Artisan Bakery and O’Kitchen in Gulshan, Dhaka’s leafiest, most exclusive area – was filling up, mostly with Japanese and Italian customers.
Suddenly, the five young militants burst in shooting and began hacking at the diners with sharp weapons.
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.
As a Hindu, he had good reason to be afraid – if the Islamist militants found out his religion, it would be a death sentence.
“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.”

There was no latch to lock the chiller from the inside, so the two men pulled on the door to keep it shut.

“The Japanese guy asked me who those men were. I said I didn’t know, but don’t worry, the police are coming.”

For nearly two hours the men stayed quietly inside.

“It was really cold. We did some exercise to try and keep warm – sit-ups holding the door pulled shut,” Sarker says.

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