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DHAKA, Bangladesh – Bangladesh on Saturday marked the first anniversary of the nation's worst terrorist attack by Islamist militants with promises to continue to fight the menace.
Foreign delegates, activists and family members vowed to tackle Islamic militancy as they visited the Holey Artisan Bakery, the site of the July 1, 2016, attack. Five militants belonging to Jumatual Mujahedeen Bangladesh, or JMB, had targeted the cafe in Dhaka and killed 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners from Japan, Italy and India. Two security officials succumbed to their injuries in a hospital, while commandoes killed the five attackers.
"We are here to remember the victims, to show respect to them," said Shahriar Kabir, a prominent Bangladeshi activist, who talked tough against militancy as he led a delegation to the attack site.
"We thank the authorities for keeping the militancy under control, at least apparently, but the main concern is to eliminate the elements that bring people to extremism," he said.
The cafe attack followed several years of smaller attacks targeting scores of individuals deemed by extremists to be enemies of radical Islam, including secularists, writers, religious minorities, foreigners and activists.
The Islamic State group claimed the responsibility for the cafe attack, but the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the claim and said it was the domestic group JMB behind it and numerous other smaller attacks. The government says the IS has no existence in the country.
Since the attack, authorities have captured and killed dozens of suspects, and said the network has been weakened if not eliminated completely. Bangladesh has experienced a rise in Islamic militancy in recent years, but the government launched a massive crackdown and said it is following a policy of zero tolerance in the fight against radical Islamists.
On Saturday, some relatives cried while people placed wreaths to remember the victims of the attack, which rattled the Muslim-majority South Asian nation.
Teams from the Japanese and Italian embassies in Dhaka visited the site and placed wreaths amid tight security.
A few blocks from the cafe, a survivor of the attack said that the day was still like a nightmare to him.
"It still haunts me. I get shaken whenever I think of the day," said Akash Khan, a 22-year-old cook at the Holey Artisan Bakery, as he joined a team of 33 staff members from the reopened cafe in a complex in Dhaka's Gulshan area.
All the staff wore black badges to mark the day.
"We were devastated, we were like a family," Khan said. "Our guests were a part of us, they were also like our family members, but all is past now ... we are trying to stand again."