Bangladesh capital on lockdown after 20 Hostages killed in restaurant standoff

Bangladesh capital on lockdown after 20 Hostages killed in restaurant standoff

Bangladesh authorities deployed heavy security throughout the capital Saturday following an 11-hour standoff with a group of militants who killed 20 mostly foreign civilians at an upscale restaurant.

The siege ended when security forces stormed the building, killing six attackers and capturing one. Most of the victims were hacked to death, and their killers sent photographs of the carnage to the Islamic State during the standoff.

Security forces rescued at least 13 hostages during the siege. Most of those who died are believed to be Italian and Japanese nationals. At least two police officers were also killed.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the identity of the attackers has not been confirmed.

Gunfire and explosions were heard Saturday morning after scores of commandos converged on the restaurant, more than 10 hours after the hostage crisis began.  Journalists were not allowed near the restaurant where several armored vehicles were on the scene.

Attackers Hit Restaurant in Diplomatic Quarter

The attack began late Friday when as many as 10 gunmen entered the Holey Artisan Bakery located in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka.

Police initially cordoned off the area around the restaurant and exchanged gunfire with the attackers who set off explosives. By midnight, shooting around the restaurant appeared to have stopped. Police then tried to open a channel of communication with the militants.  Several hours later, the commando operation to free the hostages began.

A bakery employee who escaped the attack told reporters the gunmen shouted “Allah Akbar” (God is the greatest) prior to taking hostages. Some people in the restaurant were able to escape through the roof of the facility.

Lori Ann Walsh Imdad, principal of the American Standard School in Dhaka, lives one block from the restaurant and described the scene to VOA.

“I started hearing the shots outside… Then I started very cautiously looking out of my balcony to see what was going on, but you could really hear the shots in the distance, and could see people running around.”  She said by 12:30 a.m. local time, the streets were quiet, although she said there was still a large police presence.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said all Americans working at the U.S. mission in Dhaka have been accounted for.

Latest in String of Terror Attacks

Bangladesh has seen a series of attacks in recent months, mostly targeting secular bloggers, atheists and religious minorities. The Islamic State terror group as well as al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks.

On Thursday, the United States declared AQIS a “foreign terrorist organization” and called its leader, Asim Umar, a “specially designated global terrorist.”

Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the formation of the group on the Indian subcontinent in 2014 and Umar has appeared in al-Qaida publications as the leader of the Indian offshoot.  Umar is believed to be based in Pakistan but was born in the mid-1970s in India.

Bangladesh authorities have largely rejected the claim that foreign terror groups are behind the attacks. Instead, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and other top officials have blamed the attacks on the political opposition or local militant groups.