Dhaka: The unprecedented hostage crisis in a café in the Gulshan diplomatic area of Dhaka that had Bangladesh stunned for around 10 hours, ended on Saturday after commandos of the Army stormed the restaurant that is popular with foreigners and affluent locals.
The Holey Artisan Bakery of Dhaka’s high-security diplomatic zone, which was stormed by a group of gunmen around 8:45 pm on Friday, had turned bloody, with security forces recovering 20 bodies, mostly of foreigners believed to have been killed by the terrorists.
Six out of seven gunmen were also killed during the army assault, with one captured alive. Earlier on Friday night, two police officers were killed by the hostage takers and over a dozen policemen injured in the shootout.
Latest information says at least three Bangladeshis are among the dead hostages.
Declaring ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ over, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina described the incident as a ‘militant attack’, adding that those who killed people had no religion. The Prime Minister also thanked all security personnel involved in the ‘successful’ raid.
During the army assault, which began at 7:40 am and ended at 9:30am on Saturday, the neighbourhood of the Spanish café on Road No. 79, was rocked by gunshots and explosions.
Already facing a rising crisis of “targeted murders” for the past several months, Bangladesh should see the hostage crisis as a warning signal, said analysts, who also stressed that the militants might have shifted their strategy to major attacks like the Gulshan episode.
Five hours after the crisis begun, West Asia-based Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility of the deadly attack. Citing the radical group’s mouthpiece, the Amaq news agency, they claimed that 24 people have been killed in the attack and 40 others were injured, including foreigners. Reuters reported that the Amaq posted photos supposedly provided by the IS, which showed bloody bodies of the victims.
Some reports also said the Al Qaeda in Indian Sub-continent (AQIS) had also claimed responsibility for the attack.
Italy’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, told the Italian state TV that seven Italians were among the hostages. “It is a suicide attack. They want to carry out a powerful and bloody operation and there is no room for negotiation,” the envoy said.
“2 SriLankan nationals among rescued hostages. SL High Commission official has met them and they are unharmed and safe,” the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry tweeted.
Gunmen killed 20 hostages
A Bangladesh Army spokesman said that the 20 hostages had been killed by the gunmen long before the rescue operation was launched Saturday morning. “We have found 20 bodies and all of them were murdered in the night using sharp weapons,” Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury, director of military operations, told a media briefing Saturday. He said all 20 were foreign nationals but did not elaborate.
The military officer also said that 13 people, including one Japanese person and two Sri Lankans, were rescued from the restaurant. “The para commandos started their operation at 7:40am, which successfully ended at 8:30am,” he said.
Seven men, one of them armed with a sword and the others carrying small firearms, barged into at the Holey Artisan Bakery around 8:45pm on Friday. They shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ on their way in and started firing blanks, according to the police and restaurant’s supervisor Sumon Reza, who managed to escape.
Soon after the gunmen stormed the café, police moved in, leading to an exchange of fire and explosions in which the two police officers died and several policemen were inured.
IS link not confirmed yet: US
The US State Department has said it “cannot yet confirm” the IS link to the hostage crisis though the group has reportedly claimed credit for the attack.
“We have seen ISIL claims of responsibility, but cannot yet confirm and are assessing the information available to us,” US Department of State spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement.
The US embassy in Dhaka has confirmed all American officials have been accounted for, with no injuries reported, the statement said. “We are working with the local authorities to determine if any US citizens and locally-employed staff were affected.”
The US officials are in “ongoing contact with the government of Bangladesh” as the situation continues to unfold, said the statement. “We have offered our assistance in their efforts to bring to justice those responsible for these attacks and to combat terrorism and violent extremism.”