Extremist militants shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) attacked an upscale cafe in the Bangladeshi capital, killing 20 foreigners inside, before police stormed the building yesterday and rescued 13 hostages, officials said.
The attack, claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, marks a major escalation in a campaign by militants over the past 18 months that had targeted mostly individuals advocating a secular or liberal lifestyle in mostly Muslim Bangladesh.
Six gunmen were killed during the police operation and one was captured, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a TV broadcast.
Photo: Reuters / Courtesy of Dhaka Tribune / Mahmud Hossain Opu
Authorities believe most of the victims were foreigners, Bangladesh army spokesman Colonel Rashidul Hasan said, adding that he could not yet confirm the nationalities of those who had died, most of whom were hacked to death with “sharp weapons.”
Many people in the expatriate community in Bangladesh work in the country’s US$25 billion garment sector.
The army concluded an operation to clear the cafe after a 12-hour siege that began when gunmen stormed the restaurant on Friday night. Two police were killed in the initial assault.
The 13 hostages that were rescued included one Japanese and two Sri Lankans, the army said.
One Japanese man was among those rescued and taken to a Dhaka hospital with a gunshot wound, a Japanese government spokesman said. Seven Japanese were unaccounted for.
An unknown number of Italians were among the hostages who were killed, a source at Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.
Seven Italians were in the cafe when the attack started, including several working in the garment industry, Italian media reported.
IS posted photos of what it said were dead foreigners killed in the assault.
Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to Hasina, said security forces had tried to negotiate with the gunmen.
The hostage crisis began when security guards in the Gulshan district of Dhaka, popular with expatriates, noticed several gunmen outside a medical center, Rizvi said.
When the guards approached, the gunmen ran into a building housing the restaurant, packed with people waiting for tables, he said.
Ali Arsalan, co-owner of the restaurant, said that his staff told him the attackers yelled “Allahu Akbar” as they stormed the building that is split between a bakery and the O’Kitchen Restaurant.
Police said the assailants exchanged sporadic gunfire with police outside for several hours after the gunmen attacked the restaurant at about 9pm on Friday.
A police officer at the scene said that when security forces tried to enter the premises at the beginning of the siege they were met with a hail of bullets and grenades that killed at least two of them.
Television footage showed a number of police being led away from the site with blood on their faces and clothes.
A cafe employee who escaped told local television about 20 customers were in the restaurant at the time, most of them foreigners.
Between 15 and 20 staff were working at the restaurant, the employee said.
Additional reporting by AFP
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