ISIL ‘separated local hostages from foreigners’ in Dhaka cafe bloodbath
DHAKA // Bangladesh’s prime minister implored Islamic extremists to stop killing in the name of religion Saturday after 20 hostages were killed ahead of Eid in a restaurant packed with foreigners.
Nine Italians and seven Japanese nationals were among the dead, along with a US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and a 19-year-old Indian who was studying in California. Two Bangladeshi hostages were also killed, along with two police officers.
“Eleven [hostages] were males and nine females,” said army spokesman Colonel Rashidul Hasan.
As ISIL claimed responsibility for the bloodbath in Dhaka, survivors told of how the hostage-takers separated locals from foreigners before embarking on a killing spree.
The siege, which began late on Friday, was brought to an end nearly 11 hours later when elite commandos stormed the Western-style Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in the upmarket Gulshan neighbourhood, killing six hostage-takers.
One of the attackers was captured alive and arrested, the army said.
Security officials said most of the victims were hacked to death with sharpened machete-style weapons.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has previously blamed a string of deadly attacks against religious minorities and foreigners on domestic opponents but the latest incident will heighten fears that ISIL’s reach is spreading.
“Islam is a religion of peace. Stop killing in the name of the religion,” Ms Hasina said in an impassioned televised address in which she declared two days of mourning.
“Please stop tarnishing our noble religion ... I implore you to come back to the rightful path and uphold the pride of Islam.”
The attack, by far the deadliest of a recent wave of killings claimed by ISIL or a local Al Qaeda offshoot, was carried out in a neighbourhood that is home to the country’s elite and houses many embassies.
Announcing the end of the siege, officials said 13 hostages had been rescued after members of a special force took control of the cafe.
But while Ms Hasina called the outcome a “success”, security forces later revealed that 20 of those taken captive were killed.
“Most them had been brutally hacked to death with sharp weapons,” said an army spokesman, Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury.
Italy’s government said a 10th Italian was unaccounted for.
“The terrorists want to rip away the daily fabric of our lives,” said prime minister Matteo Renzi. “Our duty is to reply with even greater force, by affirming our values, the values of freedom of which we are proud, and which are stronger than hatred or terror.”
“The attack in Dhaka has pained us beyond words,” tweeted Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who is a close ally of Ms Hasina.
Witnesses recounted how a massive gunfight erupted on Saturday morning as more than 100 commandos launched a rescue operation, nearly 11 hours after the siege began at around 9.30pm.
Eight hostages including a foreigner were rescued in the first few minutes of the operation. Police said two officers, including the head of the local police station, were killed in the initial stages. Around two dozen officers were injured.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: July 2, 2016 04:00 AM