DHAKA/ ISLAMABAD: Militants killed 20 people – including at least nine Italians and seven Japanese – inside an upmarket restaurant in Dhaka, before security forces ended a 12-hour standoff on Saturday.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for one of the most brazen attacks in Bangladesh’s history, but that claim has yet to be confirmed. It 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 Bangladesh.
The gunmen, who stormed the busy restaurant in Dhaka’s diplomatic area late Friday night, ordered all Bangladeshis to stand up before they began killing foreigners, a source briefed on the police investigation said.
Among the dead was the wife of an Italian businessman killed by a machete. Nine Italians were killed in the attack, the country’s foreign minister said, and authorities were trying to confirm the fate of another person missing.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said seven of its citizens had been confirmed dead in the attack, while one Indian was killed in the assault, India’s foreign minister said on Twitter. Emory University in Atlanta said two of its students were among hostages who were killed as well. Bangladesh authorities are yet to say where all the people killed by the militants came from.
Army spokesman Colonel Rashidul Hasan said he could not yet confirm the nationalities of those who had died. Most of them had been killed by ‘sharp weapons’, he said. Hasan said initially that it seemed all the victims were foreigners but now the army believed some locals were among the dead as well.
Six gunmen were killed during the police operation and one was captured, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a TV broadcast after more than 100 commandos concluded their operation to clear the cafe. Two police were killed in the initial assault. Thirteen hostages were rescued, including one Japanese and two Sri Lankans, the army said.
“It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these people? They don’t have any religion,” Hasina said. Declaring two days of national mourning, she said the country would stand up and fight the ‘terror threat’ that has mushroomed in its backyard.
The hostage crisis began when security guards in the Gulshan district of Dhaka, popular with expatriates, noticed several gunmen outside a medical centre, Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to Hasina, said. When the guards approached, the gunmen ran into a building housing the O’Kitchen Restaurant, packed with people waiting for tables, he said.
Police said the assailants exchanged sporadic gunfire with police outside for several hours after the gunmen attacked the restaurant around 9pm on Friday. A police officer at the scene said 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 two of them.
A cafe employee who escaped told local television about 20 customers were in the restaurant at the time, most of them foreigners. Some 15 to 20 staff were working at the restaurant, the employee said.
Pakistan condemns ‘cowardly’ attack
Pakistan on Saturday condemned the terrorist attack in Dhaka and extended “extend heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and the brotherly people and government of Bangladesh,” a Foreign Office statement said.
“Pakistan stands in solidarity with the brotherly people of Bangladesh and is confident that the government of Bangladesh will effectively counter this cowardly attack,” it added.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2016.
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