DHAKA: Bangladesh’s worst hostage crisis ended today when heavily-armed commandos stormed a popular eatery here in the diplomatic enclave and killed ISIS militants who had been holding many people, including foreigners, captive for over 12 hours.
Gunshots and sounds of explosion rocked the area at 7:40 AM (local time) as security forces launched an offensive to end the siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan diplomatic zone.
Tuhin Mohammad Masud, a commander of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) which stormed the cafe, said there had been a number of casualties, including six hostage-takers.
“We have gunned down six of the terrorists,” Masud told reporters.
A total of 18 people were rescued from the restaurant, a senior police official said.
Among the rescued are Indian, Sri Lankan and Japanese nationals. Some of them are injured, said Mohammad Jashim, a deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
An RAB official said at least five bodies were recovered during the raid, but did not confirm whether they were of hostages or gunmen.
The hostage crisis followed a Friday night gun-battle with police that left at least two senior officers dead and 40 people injured.
Fire-fighters rushed to the scene after the raid this morning with extinguishers, probably to put out flames from explosions. A medical team also rushed to the scene with stretchers.
According to unconfirmed reports, at least one foreigner has been shot during the raid inside the cafe.
Army men in armored personnel carriers (APCs) had moved in with commandos. Over 1,000 rounds of gunshots were fired and almost 100 blasts were heard in the first half an hour of the raid, media reports said.
Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency, nearly four hours after the hostage crisis unfolded, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence group, which monitors jihadist activity online.
It later issued a number of photographs of what it said were scenes from inside the restaurant.
The pictures showed what appeared to be a number of bodies lying in pools of blood. Amaq also claimed that 20 people had been killed in the attack.
Heavy firing and explosions continued at least for an hour after the operation began. A resident of a building, just 50 yards from the scene, reported spotting snipers firing from their guns.
Shots were also fired from armored personnel carriers (APCs). Grenades were also apparently exploded. Later, the APCs broke through the walls and entered the restaurant premises.
After hours of quiet at the Holey Artisan Bakery where terrorists were holding hostages, a fresh round of heavy gunfire rang out in the morning.
Last night, terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” barged into the Holey Artisan Bakery, frequented by diplomats and expatriates, and opened indiscriminate fire at around 9:20 PM (local time).
The military-led rescue operation today was launched jointly by a navy commando squad, paramilitary BGB, elite anti-crime RAB along with special police units.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but according to CNN, senior US officials believe that the attack has been probably carried out by al-Qaeda in the Indian sub-continent, which was declared as a terrorist organization by the US only a day earlier.
According to a local news channel, one of the persons being held captive messaged his relative that the terrorists are using them as human shields.
A hostage was also seen tied up in a chair on the balcony of the restaurant.
The deceased policemen have been identified as officer in-charge of nearby Banani police station, Salahuddin Ahmed and Additional Commissioner of Police Rabiul, identified only by his first name.
An Argentine national and a local escaped after taking refuge in a nearby house when the gunmen entered the restaurant.
Police said they have detained two employees of the eatery for questioning.
A kitchen staff of the restaurant, who managed to escape, said several armed men entered the restaurant and took the chief chef hostage. “They set off several crude bombs triggering panic,” he added.
The Muslim-majority Bangladesh has witnessed a wave of deadly attacks on religious minorities and secular bloggers by suspected Islamist militants.
A 48-year-old Hindu priest was today stabbed and critically injured by unidentified assailants in Bangladesh’s Satkhira district.
Earlier yesterday, a Hindu priest and a Buddhist leader were brutally hacked to death by machete-wielding Islamic State militants while another Hindu man survived a bid on his life.–PTI