DHAKA: Twenty foreigners were brutally hacked to death by terrorists inside a restaurant popular with expatriates here in the high-security diplomatic zone before commandos launched an assault on Saturday killing six attackers and capturing one alive, ending Bangladesh’s worst terror attack.
Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury, the director of military operations, said the militants slaughtered 20 hostages before the joint operation led by the armed forces began. Most of those killed were found with their throat slit, he added.
“Army Para commando Unit-1 led the operation and killed six terrorists within 13 minutes,” Chowdhury told reporters.
The mission codenamed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ was launched after the Prime Minister ordered the army to intervene to end the hostage crisis, he said.
All 20 hostages killed were foreigners , with most being Italian or Japanese. Two senior police officers were also killed in the gunbattle that began last night.
He said the bodies of the victims were recovered during a search in the Holey Artisan Bakery compound after the operation. The bodies were shifted to the Combined Military Hospital morgue for autopsy to confirm their identity.
Gunshots and sounds of explosion rocked the area at 7:40am (local time) as security forces launched the final assault to end the siege.
Sheikh Hasina: What kind of Muslims are these?
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the end of siege and said security forces “successfully” wrapped up their operation, freeing 13 hostages after killing six terrorists and capturing one militant at the Spanish cafe.
“It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these people? They don’t have any religion,” she said in a televised speech, referring to the terrorists.
“They (gunmen) defied the call of Ramadan’s tarabi (special evening) prayers and went to kill people…The way they killed people is intolerable. They don’t have any religion…terrorism is their religion,” said Hasina, with Army chief General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq by her side.
“I thank Allah as we could destroy the terrorists and rescue the hostages,” Hasina said, adding that “none of the terrorists could flee the scene, six of them were killed on the spot and one was captured alive.”
Hasina vowed to do everything to “uproot the militants and violent extremists” from Bangladesh.
Among those rescued were Indian, Sri Lankan and Japanese nationals, media reports said.
Hasina said around 30 people were injured in the attack.
ISIS claims responsibility
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 claimed that 24 people had been killed in the attack carried out by what it described as “ISIS commandos”.
Heavy firing and explosions
Heavy firing and explosions continued at least for an hour after the ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ began on Saturday morning. A resident of a building, just 50 yards from the scene, reported spotting snipers firing from their guns.
The military-led rescue operation on Saturday was launched jointly by a navy commando squad, paramilitary BGB, elite anti-crime RAB along with special police units.
Shots were also fired from armoured 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.
Army men in armoured 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.
Terrorists chanted ‘Allahu Akbar’
On Friday night, terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” barged into the cafe, frequented by diplomats and expatriates, and opened indiscriminate fire at around 9:20pm (local time).
Police said the two officers died at a hospital after being wounded in the initial gunfire on Friday night. Ten of 26 people who were wounded when the militants opened fire were in critical condition, and six were on life support, according to hospital staff. The injuries ranged from broken bones to gunshot wounds. Only one civilian was among the wounded.
The deceased policemen have been identified as officer in charge of nearby Banani police station, Salahuddin Ahmed and additional commissioner of police Rabiul.
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.
Spate of murders
The hostage crisis marks an escalation from a recent spate of murders claimed by Islamic State and al-Qaida on liberals, gays, foreigners and religious minorities, and could deal a major blow to the country’s vital $25 billion garment sector.
A Hindu priest and a Buddhist leader were brutally hacked to death by machete-wielding ISIS militants in the last two days while another Hindu man survived a bid on his life.
The restaurant assault also comes after Bangladesh hanged an Islamist party leader, Motiur Rahman Nizami, on May 11 for genocide and other crimes committed during a 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. That has drawn an angry reaction and some scattered violence from supporters. Nizami, 73, was a former legislator and minister during opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s last term as prime minister.
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