The 11-hour siege of an upmarket cafe in the diplomatic zone of Bangladesh capital Dhaka on Friday (July 1) by seven militants left 20 people dead, most of them foreigners.
The victims had been hacked to death with machetes. At least 30 people were wounded. Two police officers also died in a firefight with the militants.
It was the country’s worst terrorist attack since 2005, when Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a local militant group set off a series of bombs throughout Bangladesh in the space of an hour killing at least 25 people.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack in the early hours of Saturday, and even posted pictures of five grinning fighters in front of a black flag who it said were involved in the attack, according to the SITE monitoring website.
But Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the attackers were members of JMB which has been banned by the government. JMB claims to represent ISIS in Bangladesh but has no proven links to it.
Whoever was behind the attack, it marked a major escalation in violence by militants demanding Islamic rule in Bangladesh, whose 160 million people are mostly Muslim. Previous attacks have mostly singled out individuals advocating a secular or liberal lifestyle, or religious minorities.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the country would stand up and fight the “terror threat”.
Here is a look at how the attack unfolded, what we know of the attackers and who were the victims:
9.20pm Friday (11.20pm, Singapore time): Armed men take hostages in Holey Artisan Bakery
The gunmen shouted 'Allahu Akbar' (God is great), and opened fire as they stormed through the doors of the restaurant popular with expatriates. They also set off explosives.
Some diners managed to escape, including the restaurant's Argentine chef and Bangladeshi supervisor. They first took refuge on the roof of the two-storey cafe and then in an adjacent building,
Some managed to speak to relatives by phone, reporting there were up to 40 people trapped inside, around half of them foreigners, the private Ekattur TV station said on Friday night.
The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency claimed in a report on Saturday that the militants identified and released Muslim patrons from the restaurant, SITE said. But three of the victims were Bangladeshi, or of Bangladeshi descent.
Italian textile worker Gianni Boschetti had stepped out of the cafe just moments before the attack to take a call on his cell phone. Hiding in the cafe's garden later, he heard “haunting cries” from the terrified hostages before he was able to flee to safety. His 52-year-old wife was among those killed.
10.30pm: Gunfight with police
Police immediately rushed to the cafe and exchanged sporadic gunfire with the gunmen from outside the restaurant for several hours. But two police officers were killed in the ensuing gunfight.
“Two police officers including the head of Banani police station were killed. It appeared they were hit by bullets and splinters from a grenade,” deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Sheikh Nazmul Alam said.
“Up to 20 police officers were injured. Seven-eight people have come out of the restaurant. But there are some people inside,” he added.
11.30pm: Authorities ask for media blackout
Rapid Action Battalion Director General Benzir Ahmed urged television channels to stop live coverage of the hostage situation citing security reasons, the Daily Star reported.
1.30am Saturday: ISIS claims responsibility
US-based SITE Intelligence group posts a tweet that claims ISIS is behind the attack.
The militant group also posted pictures of five grinning fighters in front of a black flag who it said were involved in the attack, according to SITE.
“Let the people of the crusader countries know that there is no safety for them as long as their aircraft are killing Muslims,” the militants said in a statement.
7.30am: Operation to end the crisis begins
After attempts at negotiations with the gunmen proved fruitless, more than 100 commandos stormed the restaurant nearly 10 hours after the siege began, under an operation code-named ‘Thunderbolt’.
The forces comprised Bangladesh police, army, anti-terror unit, paramilitary border guard, navy commandos and SWAT team.
Gunfire and explosions were heard outside the restaurant for about 40 minutes. An AFP photographer at the scene said he could hear a massive gunfight as security forces launched the rescue operation.
Italy’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, told Italian state TV : “It is a suicide attack. They want to carry out a powerful and bloody operation and there is no room for negotiation.”
8.15am: 6 attackers killed, 13 hostages freed
The forces take control of the situation more than 10 hours after militants seized the hostages.
Five Bangladeshi hostages were rescued in the first few minutes of the operation, the security official told AFP. “They are rescued unharmed,” he said.
Six of the attackers were killed and one was detained.
The authorities later announce that 20 hostages - nine Italians, seven Japanese, two Bangladeshis, an American and an Indian - were killed.
Who were the attackers
Police said all six Islamist gunmen killed were locals. Most went to prestigious schools or universities in Dhaka and Malaysia, officials said. One suspect, however, was a madrasah student in Bogra, The Daily Star reported. And one was the son of a politician, reports said.
“A majority of the boys who attacked the restaurant came from very good educational institutions. Some went to sophisticated schools. Their families are relatively well-to-do people,” Bangladeshi Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu told India’s NDTV.
Posts on Facebook identified the men, pictured on an ISIS website grinning in front of a black flag, as Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz, Meer Saameh Mubasheer, Andaleeb Ahmed and Raiyan Minhaj.
A police officer on Monday said the pictures of four of the attackers matched the bodies, although he gave a different name for the fourth.
More on this topic
Rohan, 20, is the estranged son of S M Imtiaz Khan Babul, a leader of Bangladesh's ruling Awami League’s Dhaka City chapter and Bangladesh Olympic Association’s deputy secretary general, BD News reported. Babul had lodged a police complaint on Jan 4 stating that his son had been missing.
Rohan reportedly studied at Monash University in Malaysia after completing his A-levels from Scholastica, known as a school for the children of well-to-do families in Dhaka, where his mother teaches.
Nibras is also said to have studied at Monash University’s Malaysia campus where he was reportedly a treasurer at the International Student Services department. He then returned to Dhaka and continued his tertiary education at a private institution.
The other two attackers were studying at private universities in Dhaka, according to Bangladesh media.
Saifaul Islam, an investigator, said police were holding two people suspected of involvement in the assault, including one detained soon after the attack.
Who were the victims
Nine Italians, seven Japanese, two Bangladeshis, an American and an Indian were among the dead. Among those identified were:
Indian national Tarishi Jain, 19, was a sophomore at University of California at Berkeley and had started an internship at a bank in Dhaka just weeks ago.
She had lived in Dhaka before, attending the American International School in Bangladesh’s capital while her father worked in the city as a textile merchant, UC Berkeley said Saturday.
Tarishi intended to major in economics and had begun an internship at Dhaka's Eastern Bank Limited, working on e-commerce growth, in early June, UC Berkeley said.
Abinta Kabir, one of two Emory University students killed in the attack, was a “treasure to this world,” her childhood friend Emma Louisa Jacoby told CNN.
Abinta, a US citizen, was a sophomore at the Atlanta-based university’s campus in Oxford, Georgia. She had been visiting family and friends in Dhaka, the university said.
Like Tarishi, Abinta had attended the American International School in Dhaka before college.
More on this topic
Faraaz Hossain, who was from Dhaka, was a 2016 graduate of Oxford College near Atlanta and a student at Emory's Goizueta Business School.
A friend from high school said he was voted prom king and class president. His friend told CNN he was very humble and one of the most responsible people she had ever met.
Tarishi, Abinta and Faraaz were having dinner together at the cafe when the attack took place.
The militants offered to free Faraaz but he chose to remain with his friends, according to witnesses. Businessman Rezaul Karim, whose son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren were taken hostage but later freed, told The Daily Star: “My daughter-in-law told me that she heard a Bangladeshi youth refused to leave the restaurant when militants offered to free him.”
“They wouldn’t let two of his friends go,” he said.
The 45-year-old Bangladeshi human resource specialist was hacked to death because she was not wearing a hijab, and refused to recite from the Quran when asked to do so, her friends told The Indian Express. She was involved in the Institute of Asian Creatives, Institute of Art and Culture, Dhaka Art Centre and a number of other cultural organisations, said her uncle Saif Hasan.“When we first heard the news of her death, we could not believe it. Not only family members, everyone who knew Ishrat were saddened by the news,” Saif told The Daily Star.
The 52-year-old had lived in Bangladesh for 25 years. Benedetti's father started a buying house, Initial Sourcing Limited, in 1995 in Bangladesh, which later branched out into garment manufacturing and was renamed as Studiotex. She took over as as its managing director after her father died.
“She had lived in Italy, Kenya and Bangladesh and had never stopped, not even in the most difficult moments,” Ilgiornale.it, an Italian news website quoted her niece Giulia Benedetti as saying on Facebook.
"Now we have lost the last hope. We will not see each other again; we will not talk and will not comment on the colours of the shirts to be produced,” she said. Benedetti was in a farewell dinner at the restaurant with other Italian businesspersons in Dhaka on business.
More on this topic
Claudia Maria D'Antona
The 56 year-old was the managing director of Fedo Trading Limited, an Italian garment buying house operating in Bangladesh for more than 14 years. Her husband Gianni Boschetti had stepped outside to take a call on his cell phone when the gunmen attacked. She shrieked his name, and then went silent. He hid in the garden for several hours but heard nothing more from D’Antona.
“The last time I heard my wife’s voice is when she called for me from the inside,” Boschetti told La Repubblica. “I was sick with fear for myself and was worried about what was happening inside, with the agonising feeling of not being able to see my wife.”
He hid from the attackers in the cafe garden as they coralled diners inside, and heard “haunting cries” from the terrified hostages before he was able to flee to safety.
“For hours I was hoping for a miracle, but in the end I had to accept the truth,” he said after identifying his dead wife’s body, who he said was likely killed by a bullet.
“I saw bodies in a terrible state, from beatings and sharp weapons, but not my wife’s. Maybe she didn’t suffer.” The pair had been married just one or two years according to diplomatic sources in Dhaka.
The 47-year-old father of two three-year-old twins, ran a clothing consultancy, with offices in Bangladesh and China. He was on a business trip to Bangladesh and was scheduled to fly back to Italy on Thursday, but postponed the return.
The 33-year-old was five months pregnant and was looking for a job back home in Italy. She was working in the textile industry and had moved to Dhaka in September.
Cappelli, 45, owned a clothing company, and was the father of a six-year-old daughter.
D'Allestro, 46, also from the textile industry, was travelling through Bangladesh.
The 54-year-old was due to return to Italy on Saturday. She was a quality control manager from Catania, Sicily.
Rivoli, 39, was the mother of a three-year-old, and worked in the textile industry.
The 39-year-old was due to return to his hometown Cordovado in northern Italy on July 4.
Makoto Okamura, 32, was one of seven Japanese nationals confirmed dead. "Everybody loved him. He is a good man," his father, Komakichi Okamoto, 71, told Japan's TV Asahi.
Okamura was engaged to be married, Asahi reported. “I called her yesterday, and she broke down crying on the phone,” Okamoto said, referring to his son’s fiancee. One of their dinner companions, management consultant Tamaoki Watanabe, survived.
The 80-year-old was a veteran engineer who worked for Oriental Consultants Global. “He was so eager to work for his country and for Bangladesh,” his brother told Fuji TV.
The 56-year-old was an environmental impact assessment expert for Katahira & Engineers International, a construction company. He was due to return to Japan on July 5.
Kurosaki, 48, was a civil engineer who worked for Oriental Consultants Global. Yuko Sakai, 42
Rui Shimodaira, 27
Hideki Hashimoto, 65
The group behind the attack
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack and posted pictures of five grinning fighters in front of a black flag who it said were involved in the attack.
But Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan rejected those claims, blaming Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a local militant group which claims to represent ISIS but has no proven links.
Mr Khan said the men made no demands during the attack.
More on this topic
In a perverse gesture, the gunmen separated the Muslims from the non-Muslims. The Muslims were given food and water, CNN reported.
As dawn approached, the attackers ordered the remaining staff to prepare a meal so the Muslims could eat before beginning their Ramadan fast.
The JMB group has been linked to a wave of small-scale attacks in Bangladesh over the past year, including the murder of secular bloggers, atheists and an LGBT rights campaigner.
Its top two leaders were arrested and executed in 2008, after near-simultaneous bomb attacks in all the country’s 64 districts.
SOURCES: AFP, REUTERS, CNN, THE STAR/ANN, THE DAILY STAR/ANN
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.