Dhaka vows to get tough after deadly cafe attack

A deadly siege at a cafe in the Bangladeshi capital ends, as relatives of hostages wait for news about their loved ones.
Soldiers taking up their positions near the Holey Artisan Bakery yesterday, after militants embarked on a killing spree at the upscale cafe in Dhaka on Friday night. The attack took place in the Gulshan neighbourhood, which is home to the country's e
Soldiers taking up their positions near the Holey Artisan Bakery yesterday, after militants embarked on a killing spree at the upscale cafe in Dhaka on Friday night. The attack took place in the Gulshan neighbourhood, which is home to the country's elite and houses many foreign embassies.PHOTO: REUTERS

20 hostages, mostly foreigners, killed by militants in 11-hour siege; ISIS claims responsibility

DHAKA • Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has vowed to fight the "terror threat" in the country, after a stand-off with armed assailants at an upmarket restaurant in Dhaka ended yesterday with 20 hostages killed.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest and boldest in a recent wave of killings by militants.

Many of the victims of the nearly 11-hour siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery were hacked to death.

"It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these people?" said Ms Hasina in a televised address.

Last night, she declared two days of national mourning.

The attack came barely two days after triple suicide bombings at Istanbul's Ataturk airport left 45 people dead and 239 others injured. No group claimed responsibility but the Turkish authorities said they believed ISIS was behind the attack.

In Dhaka, survivors told of how the hostage-takers separated locals from foreigners who were eating side by side, before embarking on a killing spree on Friday night at the start of the Eid holiday.

There was no exact breakdown of the casualties but seven Japanese citizens were confirmed to be among the dead, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said nine Italians were killed and a 10th was listed as missing.

India confirmed that one of its nationals, a 19-year-old female student, was killed. The United States also confirmed one citizen died.

Some reports said Bangladeshis were among the dead.

Two police officers were also killed, while six attackers were shot dead after elite commandos stormed the restaurant. The seventh was captured alive and arrested.

The government has previously blamed a string of deadly attacks - targeting religious minorities and foreigners - on domestic opponents, but the incident will heighten fears that ISIS' reach is growing.

The attack took place in the Gulshan neighbourhood, which is home to the country's elite and houses many foreign embassies.

Announcing the end of the siege, officials said that 13 hostages had been rescued after members of an elite force took control of the cafe and killed six of the gunmen.

But while Ms Hasina called the outcome a "success", the security forces later revealed that 20 of those taken captive were killed.

"Most them had been brutally hacked to death with sharp weapons," army spokesman Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury told reporters.

Foreigners and Bangladeshis could be seen standing outside the restaurant after the siege, awaiting news about their loved ones inside.

Witnesses recounted how a massive gunfight erupted yesterday morning as more than 100 commandos launched the rescue attempt.

Eight hostages, including a foreigner, were rescued in the first few minutes of the raid. Television footage showed ambulances rushing some of those who had been freed to a military hospital.

"It was a horrendous night," said Argentine chef Diego Rossini. "(The hostage-takers) had automatic weapons and bombs."

Since 2013, at least 40 people have been killed in a wave of attacks by Islamist militants in the Muslim-majority country. The attacks, mostly carried out with machetes, first targeted atheist bloggers, then religious minorities, gay activists, foreigners and others.

Foreign governments including Singapore condemned the terrorist attack. Singapore detained eight Bangladeshis under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in April. Four have since been charged and convicted of financing terrorism in their own country.

Last year, 27 radicalised Bangladeshi workers were arrested under the ISA and later deported.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'Dhaka vows to get tough after deadly cafe attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe