Dhaka: Twenty foreigners were brutally murdered with sharp weapons by Islamic State militants inside a restaurant popular with expatriates in the high-security diplomatic zone before elite commandos stormed the cafe today and killed them, ending Bangladesh's worst hostage crisis.
Director of Military Operations Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury 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 7:40 am (local time) as security forces launched the final offensive to end the siege.
Soon after the offensive, 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 restaurant.
"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. "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, flanked by Army chief General Abu Belal Muhammad Shafiul Huq.
Among those rescued were Indian, Sri Lankan and Japanese nationals, media reports said.
Hasina said around 30 people were injured in the attack.
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 "Islamic State commandos."
Heavy firing and explosions continued at least for an hour after the operation began this morning. A resident of a building, just 50 yards from the scene, reported spotting snipers firing from their guns.
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. "Our law enforcement agencies responded promptly soon after the terrorists raided the restaurant...as they were about to take action, two police officers were killed by the terrorists," Hasina said.
She said the situation prompted the authorities to call out army commandos from cantonments in north-eastern Sylhet, suburban Savar and the Dhaka garrison overnight.
"At around 4 in the morning, the operational plan was laid out and the security forces launched the assault," she said.
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.
Last night, terrorists shouting "Allahu Akbar" barged into the cafe, frequented by diplomats and expatriates, and opened indiscriminate fire at around 9:20 pm (local time).
The military-led rescue operation today was launched jointly by a navy commando squad, paramilitary BGB, elite anti-crime RAB along with special police units.
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.
The Muslim-majority Bangladesh has witnessed a wave of deadly attacks on religious minorities and secular bloggers by suspected Islamist militants.
A 48-year-old Hindu priest was today stabbed and critically injured by unidentified assailants in Bangladesh's Satkhira district.
Earlier yesterday, a Hindu priest and a Buddhist leader were brutally hacked to death by machete-wielding Islamic State militants while another Hindu man survived a bid on his life.