The family of a University of Toronto student being held by Bangladeshi police is appealing to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion to intervene in the case and press for his release.

Tahmid Hasib Khan, a 22-year-old permanent resident of Canada, survived being held hostage by attackers who stormed an upscale restaurant in Dhaka last week, killing 20. But since his rescue on Saturday, he and one other hostage continue to be detained by police for questioning, while three others have been released.

Even though Mr. Khan is not a Canadian citizen, the federal government has discretion to seek consular access to him and has “a moral and ethical duty” to intervene on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, said Toronto lawyer Marlys Edwardh, who is representing his brother, Talha Khan.

“We need your intervention to ensure that Tahmid is safe and to encourage the Bangladeshi authorities to grant consular assistance and to release him. His family are quite desperate to know that he is OK,” Ms. Edwardh wrote in a letter to Mr. Dion on Tuesday.

Talha and his family say Mr. Khan had no involvement in the assault – which also led to the deaths of two police officers – and speculate that he is being held because he is of a similar age to the attackers and is also foreign-educated. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the deadly siege.

“I am a little concerned, naturally, because I want my brother back with me here in Toronto,” Talha, a Canadian citizen who is studying history at York University, told The Globe and Mail, his voice catching with emotion. “But at the same time, my parents of course they have full faith in the due process, but given Tahmid’s profile, I think this shouldn’t be taking so long.”

There is also speculation that authorities could be holding Mr. Khan because of his connection to Canada and suspicions about a link to Tamim Chowdhury, also known as Shaykh Abu Ibrahim al-Hanif. Mr. Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi-Canadian, is the leader of a militant group in Bangladesh with close ties to the Islamic State, according to local media reports.

“From our perspective, [Mr. Khan] is an innocent that has been simply swept into this horrific circumstance,” Ms. Edwardh said.

Mr. Dion’s office said it received the letter but would not comment on whether it would provide consular services to Mr. Khan.

“There are limits to what any country can do for individuals who are not citizens of that country. Canadian government officials abroad work under the guidelines of the Canadian Consular Services Charter. The Privacy Act prevents us from sharing further details,” Mr. Dion’s press secretary, Chantal Gagnon, said in an e-mail.

Ms. Edwardh also sent a letter to the Bangladeshi high commissioner in Ottawa asking him to facilitate consular access by Canadian officials.

Mr. Khan’s family is especially concerned because he has epilepsy and a history of seizures, which can be exacerbated by stress, a lack of sleep and dehydration, Ms. Edwardh said. He does not currently take medication.

Talha Khan, 26, spoke briefly with his brother by phone after commandos liberated him and the other hostages on Saturday from the Holey Artisan Bakery, where they were held for some 11 hours. Their parents, who live in Dhaka, were also able to speak with him by phone a few times following his detention, but that contact has since ceased, he said. They have not been able to visit him.

The last time Talha saw his brother was on June 29, when he and some friends saw him off at the airport before his flight to Dhaka. Mr. Khan, who arrived in the capital just a few hours before the hostage taking, was there to celebrate Eid with his parents. He then planned to travel to Nepal, where he has a summer internship at Unicef.

Mr. Khan, who is in his last year of an undergraduate program majoring in global health at U of T, grew up in Dhaka. His family immigrated to Canada in 2004 before eventually returning to Bangladesh. His parents are permanent residents of Canada, Tahla said, and plan to retire here.

Jill Mahoney
The Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2016 8:30PM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Jul. 06, 2016 8:32PM EDT