Dhaka: Islamic State terrorists stormed acrowded restaurant in Dhaka’s high-security Gulshan diplomatic area and took hostage at least 20 people including foreigners, triggering a fierce gunbattle with Bangladesh security forces in which two policemen were killed and 30 injured.
At least nine 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) yesterday. Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency, nearly four hours after the hostage crisis unfolded.
Amaq also claimed that 20 people had been killed in the attack. Local media reports, meanwhile, said that the father of a teenage Indian girl, who was among the hostages, urged authorities to expedite negotiations for her safe release. Two persons — an Argentine national and a Bangladeshi– who had taken refuge in a nearby house when the the gunmen entered the restaurant, were rescued by police.
Police also said they have detained two employees of the restaurant for questioning. Several foreigners, including Italians and Japanese, were feared to have been taken hostage along with locals inside the restaurant, they said.
However the total number of hostages still remains uncertain. A large number of policemen and personnel from the RAB, paramilitary and Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) have cordoned off the area and surrounded the restaurant. Security personnel were seen warding off people crowding the cordon. Navy commandos along with Air force and Army have been kept on standby, as negotiations are underway, official sources said.
“We are trying to negotiate with the gunmen holed up inside the restaurant. Efforts are still under way to contact the gunmen with an aim to rescue the hostages without loss of life,” Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) chief Benazir Ahmed told newsmen. “Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside.”
When security forces tried to enter the building, the gunmen hurled grenades at them, resulting in injuries to around 30 people and policemen. The officer in-charge of nearby Banani police station, Salahuddin Ahmed and Additional Commissioner of Police Rabiul, identified only by his first name, succumbed to their injuries. Several people are said to be are critically wounded.Gunshots and explosions were heard intermittently near the restaurant.
Local media also reported that one of the hostages, a Bangladeshi man, managed to call up his relative and told him to ask police not to fire, as he feared the gunmen would kill them all. He said there were around 20 foreigners present at the restaurant during the attack, according to newspaper website Prothom Alok.
A kitchen staff of the restaurant, who managed to escape, said several armed men entered the restaurant around 8:45 PM and took the chief chef hostage, according to media reports. “They set off several crude bombs triggering panic,” he added.
Internet services have also been blocked throughout Bangladesh following orders from higher authorities, internet service provider, Aamra, said.
MEA sources in New Delhi said they were monitoring the situation in Dhaka and trying to ascertain the details. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in touch with security agencies over the incident. US President Barack Obama has been briefed by his top counter-terrorism official on the attack in Bangladesh, a White House official said.
The Muslim-majority Bangladesh has been fighting a wave of deadly attacks on religious minorities and secular bloggers by suspected Islamist militants. Earlier today, 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. On June 7, a 65-year-old Hindu priest was killed by three bike-borne assailants in western Bangladesh.
The ISIS and al-Qaeda in Indian Sub-Continent have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks even though the government has denied their presence in the country. Last month, police launched a nationwide anti-militancy crackdown to halt these attacks.