Updated: July 3, 2016 5:40:49 pm
The 11-hour siege by terrorists at an upscale cafe here ended early Saturday morning with at least 20 hostages dead. Almost all the hostages killed are now feared to be foreigners, including one Indian, nine Italians, seven Japanese, and an American.
Two police officers and six terrorists were also killed in the operation, while one was captured. Around 30 people were injured. Thirteen of the hostages were rescued, including one Argentine, two Sri Lankans and two Bangladeshis.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the unprecedented terrorist attack on Bangladeshi soil, with many comparing it to 26/11.
Local media said the terrorists tortured anyone who was unable to recite the Koran. The Bangladeshi captives who were able to do so were provided meals overnight, it said.
The victims were hacked to death, Bangladesh Director of Military Operations Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury said. “Most of those killed were found with their throats slit.”
Late on Saturday night, top sources told The Sunday Express that during the hostage situation, the terrorists had
made at least three demands — release of an arrested Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) leader, free passage, and recognition of them as Islamic State. None of the demands was met.
Eyewitnesses said the terrorists stormed the popular Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s posh Gulshan area shouting “Allah-ho-Akbar” slogans. They hurled bombs and engaged in a gunbattle with security forces.
The gunmen, initially firing blanks, ordered restaurant workers to switch off the lights, and draped black clothes over closed-circuit cameras, according to a survivor, who spoke with local TV channel ATN News. He and others, including kitchen staff, managed to escape by running to the rooftop or out the back door.
The Indian who was killed was identified as Tarishi Jain, 19. The slain Japanese citizens had ties to the non-governmental Japan International Cooperation Agency. Earlier, before the deaths were confirmed, its president Shinichi Kitaoka told reporters that while one of them had been rescued with injuries, seven “have not been accounted for and we are very much concerned”.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said one Italian was still missing. The identity of two others killed in the attack was still unclear. Some reports said three Bangladeshis were among the dead.
Reports said 10 of the wounded were in a critical condition, and six were on life support. Most of them are police officers.
The IS claimed responsibility for the attack, and through its Amaq news agency, issued a number of photographs of what it said were scenes from inside the restaurant, though the authenticity of the images could not be confirmed. The pictures showed what appeared to be a number of bodies lying in pools of blood.
Amaq claimed 24 people were killed in the attack by what it described as “ISIS commandos”. On Saturday, it published photos of five smiling young men, each holding what appeared to be assault rifles and posing in front of black IS flags, identifying them as the attackers, according to the SITE Intelligence Service, which monitors jihadi online activity.
They were identified by noms de guerre indicating they were all Bangladeshis. Amaq said the fighters used “knives, cleavers, assault rifles and hand grenades”.
Amaq claimed the attackers “verified” the hostages’ identities, sparing the Muslims and killing the foreigners.
Brigadier Chowdhury said the bodies of the victims were recovered during a search of Holey Artisan Bakery compound after the operation.
“Army Para commando Unit-1 led the operation and killed six terrorists within 13 minutes,” Chowdhury told reporters. The mission codenamed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ was launched after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the army to intervene to end the hostage crisis, he said.
Announcing the end of the siege, with Army chief General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq by her side, Hasina said, “It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these people? They don’t have any religion… They don’t have any religion… Terrorism is their religion.”
The attack marked an escalation in militant violence in the traditionally moderate Muslim-majority nation, with extremists demanding Islamic rule. Most previous attacks have involved machete-wielding men singling out individual activists, foreigners and religious minorities.
But Friday night’s attack was different, more coordinated, with the attackers brandishing assault rifles.
While the government did not directly comment on the IS claim, it has denied in the past that the extremist group has a presence in Bangladesh. The Hasina government instead has accused her political rivals of orchestrating the violence in order to destabilise the nation.
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