On the night of July 1, a picture of 20-year-old Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, dead with his arm outstretched supporting the head of his friend Tarishi Jaina after an attack at the holy Artisan Bakery in Dhaka and posted by Islamic State (IS) supporters online, went viral. Hours later, it was after seeing this picture that Faraaz’s family came to know that he had been killed.
In the months that followed, Faraaz’s death and sacrifice while attempting to save two of his friends has come to mark the resistance or pushback against terrorism in Bangladesh. His family says people name their sons after him and several villages have put up posters saying “Faraaz is Bangladesh”.
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On Sunday, Faraaz’s family was felicitated in Mumbai with the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for his bravery. An act his mother is proud of while regretting the fact that she lost her son to terrorism at such a young age. Faraaz, studying business in the United States’ Goizueta Business School, had come home for summer vacations. It was Ramadan, he had just finished iftaar and told his mother Simen Hossain, “Khuda haafiz. I will see you soon.” He was to meet his two friends from American International School Dhaka, Abinta Kabir and Tarishi Jaina, before they left for Delhi and US respectively. Another friend who was to join them got late and was saved when the three were killed by IS gunmen.
It was about 8.30 pm. “We came to know of gola-goli (firing) and left immediately. We stayed outside the cafe the whole night,” recalls Zarif Hossain, Faraaz’s elder brother. They kept calling Faraaz, saw his profile go online on Facebook once before midnight, but were not sure whether it was Faraaz or someone else checking his phone. He never texted or answered their call that night.
In the morning at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka, even as Simen kept asking officials if they had seen a boy with grey polo t-shirt and a blue horse on it, an acquaintance showed the family Faraaz dead in an online picture. That was 12 hours after the attack began at the cafe.
“I knew he would never leave his friends. I was scared the whole night when I heard Bangladeshis and foreign nationals were being separated inside the cafe. Both his friends were from outside Bangladesh,” Simen says. According to a Sri Lankan couple and a Bangladeshi woman who survived the attack that killed 23 that night, Faraaz was given an option to leave but he refused to go without his two friends, his family says.
After his death, Zarif had noticed a deep blade cut in his hand stretching up to his arms. Another slit was through his neck. A military official had later told Zarif it was incredible how Faraaz fought back unarmed. “Faraaz was the only Bangladeshi who had no bullet injury. They used a knife on him. He must have resisted it with his hands,” Zarif says. A school president, later a volleyball captain, Faraaz was said to be an all-rounder. He had planned to join his family business in Dhaka after his graduation in the US.
Now, even as a city square has been named after him, and the entire Bangladeshi society is galvanising itself against terrorism, Simen says parents and teachers together need to ensure radicalisation does not happen to young people. “These are not Muslims who are raging terror. They are boys who have lost direction, with dysfunctional families. Even the eight boys who attacked the cafe were all from backgrounds with little education,” she said.
For the Hossains, terrorism is emerging as a global issue which needs to be tackled fast by the government. “Islam preaches peace, that is what Faraaz attempted that night,” she says.