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World Detained University of Toronto student formally arrested in Dhaka

British national Hasnat Karim, center left, and University of Toronto student Tahmid Hasib Khan, center right, are taken before court in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Thursday, Aug. 4.

Associated Press photo

A University of Toronto student who has not been heard from since last month's deadly siege at a Bangladesh restaurant was formally arrested Thursday on allegations that he was involved in the attack.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, 22, along with a fellow hostage-turned-detainee, was arrested in Dhaka, the country's capital, on Thursday under Section 54 of Bangladesh's Penal Code, said Masudur Rahman, a Dhaka police spokesman. That section allows police to arrest suspects without laying charges.

Mr. Khan and Hasnat Karim, 47, appeared in a Dhaka court, where police asked that the two men remain in custody for 10 days so they can be questioned further. The court granted an eight-day remand, after which Mr. Khan and Mr. Karim must be released, or brought back to court and charged.

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Mr. Khan's brother, Talha Khan, a Toronto-based Canadian citizen, said he was "relieved" and "elated" just to see pictures of Mr. Khan, who suffers from epilepsy, after more than a month of no news.

"It's the first time in so many weeks I've seen my brother. … In the photos I saw, he looks fine. I would attribute that to the international media awareness this has received, and [the fact that] the Canadian government has been in touch with the Bangladeshi government throughout," he said, adding that his lawyer had sent another letter to Global Affairs to appeal for Mr. Khan's release.

The family would not confirm whether it has had any contact with Mr. Khan since July 3, when his mother sent food for him while he was in police custody. Police said Mr. Khan was arrested at his parents' home, but his family has consistently maintained that he has not returned home throughout the ordeal.

Five armed gunmen attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery on the night of July 1, killing 23 people and holding others hostage. Security forces stormed the restaurant after nearly 12 hours, on the morning of July 2, killing the gunmen and rescuing the remaining 13 hostages.

Mr. Khan and Mr. Karim were inside the restaurant at the time of the attack, but Bangladeshi authorities have been inconsistent on the subject of their whereabouts ever since. Police initially said the two men had been released with all the other hostages after questioning. On July 19, after the families pressed for international intervention and advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a statement appealing for authorities to stop holding the men incommunicado, police confirmed they were being interrogated.

Mr. Khan, a permanent resident of Canada, has been studying global health at U of T and is due to begin his fourth year in the fall. The son of a prominent businessman in Dhaka, he had arrived in the city a day before the attack and was expected to begin an internship in Nepal about a week later. His family, who maintains his innocence, appealed directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on July 11 to intervene in ensuring his safety.

Global Affairs Canada issued a statement on Thursday that said, "Canadian officials have been in contact with Bangladeshi authorities about this case. There are limits to what any country can do for individuals who are not citizens of that country."

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Fellow detainee Mr. Karim was a private university teacher who was later investigated for allegedly being involved with a banned Islamic group, Hizbut Tahrir. He left the university in 2012, but one of the July 1 attackers was identified as his former student. Police showed video footage and photos of Mr. Karim interacting with the attackers on several occasions – he was even allegedly seen smoking with them on the eatery's rooftop in one video.

No evidence directly implicating Mr. Khan has been released by authorities, but fellow hostages reported that he was coerced into carrying a weapon and helped negotiate their release during the siege.

"We understand that the authorities need to investigate this matter thoroughly. We trust that they will soon conclude, as his fellow hostages have confirmed, that Tahmid is innocent," said a statement on Free Tahmid, a Facebook page operated by friends of Mr. Khan.

"Bangladeshi police have had a long and dark history of human-rights violations against people in custody," said Tejshree Thapa, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch. The public announcement of Mr. Khan's arrest was a positive sign because authorities will now be held to a global human-rights standard, she added.

Bangladesh police have said they are investigating whether the attackers had links to the Islamic State militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attack. The claim was rejected by Bangladesh's government, which said IS has no presence in the country and instead blamed a local banned radical group, Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh.

Earlier this week, police also named Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, a former resident of Windsor, Ont., alleged to be the leader of the Islamic State in Bangladesh, as the mastermind behind the attacks. He left Canada three years ago and his current whereabouts are unknown.

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With a report from Associated Press

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