13 hostages rescued, 6 militants killed in Bangladesh Restaurant attack

13 hostages rescued, 6 militants killed in Bangladesh Restaurant attack

Commandos in the capital of Bangladesh have rescued at least 13 hostages and killed six militants after storming an upscale restaurant where suspected Islamic State militants took at least 20 hostages, including several foreigners.

Officials say at least one militant has been captured alive, and a search is under way for others who may have escaped.

Among the 13 hostages rescued during the commando operation are three foreigners.  Officials say there have been casualties among the hostages, but it is not yet clear how many may have been killed during the lengthy siege, which ended more than 12 hours after it began.

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

Militants attacked the restaurant late Friday.  Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the identity of the attackers has not been confirmed.

Bangladeshi police report two police officers were killed in the early hours of the siege. The Amaq news agency, which is linked to the militants, claimed more than 20 people were killed in the attack. Authorities deny that report.

Police say eight to nine gunmen entered the Holey Artisan Bakery located in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka around 9:20 p.m. local time Friday.

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.

The U.S. State Department confirmed on Twitter that a hostage situation was taking place and urged people to shelter in place and monitor the news.

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. Among the hostages were believed to be citizens of Italy and India, and possibly on Japanese national along with Bangladeshis.

Bangladesh has seen a series of attacks in recent months, mostly targeting bloggers, atheists and religious minorities. Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, or AQIS, has 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.”

The State Department said the terrorist designations are meant to prohibit Americans from engaging in any transactions with the group or Umar.  The designations also freeze any assets or property under U.S. jurisdiction that are tied to Umar or AQIS.

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-1970’s in India.