DHAKA • The chic Dhaka eatery with large windows overlooking a lush lawn suggested an oasis in an increasingly dangerous city.
That illusion ended at about 9pm on Friday when gunmen burst through the door of Holey Artisan Bakery which sells profiteroles and pizzas to Dhaka's elite.
The Spanish cafe was housed in the lower floor of the building, while O'Kitchen Restaurant was on its second floor.
Mr Hasnat Karim had taken his family to the cafe to celebrate his daughter's birthday that night. He was too traumatised to fully describe the ordeal, saying only that the hostage-takers "did not misbehave with us".
But he told his father how the gunmen - who were armed with automatic weapons, bombs and makeshift machetes - had split the diners into two groups.
"(The foreigners) were taken to the upper floor and the Bangladeshis were kept around a table," said his father, Mr Rezaul Karim. Many diners were able to scramble to safety amid the chaos that erupted in the early part of the attack.
Most of the 20 people killed by the militants at the restaurant were foreign nationals, the army clarified later after earlier saying that they were all foreign nationals.
The bottom line is Bangladesh has plenty of local... militants and radicals happy to stage attacks in ISIS' name.
MR MICHAEL KUGELMAN, an analyst at The Wilson Centre in Washington, DC.
One of the attackers cursed a diner for sitting with non-Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan and proclaimed that the nation would now be seen as an Islamic state, according to a Bangladeshi official.
One man who escaped told India's ABP News channel how the gunmen chanted slogans as they forced their way past the sole security guard at the door.
"I rushed to alert others. Some people managed to escape through a back route, but the rest were trapped," he said on condition of anonymity. "They made people stand in a line. There must be about 20 to 25 staff and about 20 to 25 guests and then they switched off the lights and CCTV."
Bangladesh, where around 90 per cent of the population is Muslim, has just begun a week-long holiday to enjoy the Eid celebrations which accompany the end of the Ramadan fasting month.
As news of the siege spread, police rushed to the scene and engaged in gunbattles with the hostage-takers.
Several kitchen employees who had locked themselves in a bathroom inside Holey posted a picture of themselves on Facebook. One of them, Mr Soumir Roy, 28, sent his brother a text message, saying: "We are here so if possible break the wall of the bathroom and rescue us."
The siblings exchanged a series of tense messages over nine hours, but after the gunfire and explosions from rescue operations died down, the messages from Mr Roy stopped. Outside, his brother and sister sat on the roadside weeping, unsure if he had survived.
Argentinian chef Diego Rossini managed to escape and ducked into a next-door building while under fire. "I felt bullets pass so close to me. I felt fear like I've never felt in my life," he told Argentina's television channel C5N.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group, which claimed responsibility for the attack, posted photos showing two bodies soaked in pools of crimson.
The 20 civilian victims were mostly foreigners and nearly all had been hacked to death with machetes. A senior officer who was part of the operation which ended the siege yesterday morning described the gruesome scene inside the cafe.
"We saw blood in many places and were shocked to see the carnage," he said on condition of anonymity. "We heard the gang saying Allahu Akbar and there was a slogan written on the wall which said Allah would grant them Jannatul Ferdous (ultimate heaven)."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES