Today marks the 2 year anniversary of the Holey Bakery Terrorist attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Holey Bakery was a restaurant that I, and nearly all the expats in Dhaka, visited frequently. It was a routine for the consular officers in particular to go there for brunch on the weekends. In fact, the day after I arrived in Dhaka to start my first FS posting, my social sponsor took me to Holey to enjoy some respite from the bustling city. Holey was nestled at the end of a road, next to Gulshan lake. Once you entered the grounds, you felt like you were in another city entirely – greener, cleaner, quieter. The food was outstanding, the view lovely, and in general, it was one of the most popular places for expats and Bangladeshi’s alike.
I remember browsing through the “Deshperate in Dhaka” Facebook group and seeing somebody in the Gulshan area posting a comment about gunshots in the area. I was concerned, but hoped it was just fireworks. Never could I have imagined the devastation that would follow. As time progressed, the Embassy was put on a ‘stay where you are’ type of situation, and we could only try to glean what was happening from other Dhaka residents and, eventually, CNN. When we realized it was all going down at Holey, we were shocked. It is only by a stroke of luck that no Embassy personnel were there – the terrorists had picked a weekend when most of us were out of town and a later time period than most Americans eat. Several of my friends had either been there earlier in the day, were planning to go the next day (like myself), or had been on their way when their plans changed.
The events of that night are horrifying. The manner that most of the victims were killed, the stories of heartbreak and terror, the brave self-sacrifice of Faraaz Hossain…It’s unimaginable. My apartment was about a half mile away. I could hear the gunshots, the explosions, and did not know what was happening. I sat up most of the night with my neighbor (a fellow FSO), and then the next morning cowered in my bedroom. I’ve run through the scenario countless times, my mind wondering what would have happened if I’d chosen that night to eat dinner at Holey. The next day found 20 hostages (18 foreigners and 2 locals), 2 police officers, and 2 bakery staff murdered. All 5 attackers were killed as well – and something that made the attack somehow even more horrifying was that these 5 young men came from the wealthy elite. They could speak English and wore western clothes. They’d attended the best schools in Bangladesh. Yet somehow they were part of ISIL, willing and eager to kill Westerners. It changed the game of how many people thought of terrorist organization recruiters.
The next few months were filled with uncertainty – most of the spouses and all of the children of Foreign Services Officers were evacuated. Our movements in public were effectively cut off. I had nightmares of terrorists overcoming my apartment building. I bought a baseball bat and placed it next to my bed. Loud noises made us all jump (and there are a lot of loud noises in Dhaka!) It felt like we were waiting for the next attack.
I spent the next 22 months of my service in Dhaka severely limited in movement, but with a vibrant community of people that helped me cope. Game nights, sports teams, rooftop parties, and simply just hanging out with others made the situation much better than it could have been. Things appear to be getting better in Dhaka nowadays, but I think the repurcussions will still affect the community for years to come.
Today I am thinking of all those who died or lost people they loved in this senseless attack. Stay strong, Bangladesh.