Bangladesh forces stormed a restaurant where heavily armed militants held dozens of people hostage for 10 hours on Saturday morning, triggering explosions and finding at least five bodies lying in pools of blood. Japan's government said that 12 people were rescued.
The commanding officer of Bangladeshi commandos later confirmed that at least six of the militants have been killed and 13 hostages rescued after security forces cleared the main restaurant building at the end of the 10-hour standoff.
Lt. Col. Tuhin Mohammad Masud told AP that some militants were captured.
"We have gunned down at least six terrorists and the main building is cleared but the operation is still going on," he said.
According to some media reports, one terrorist have been captured alive.
— News18 (@CNNnews18) July 2, 2016
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Minister congratulated the Bangladesh security forces for carrying out a successful rescue operation. She said that the commandos along with RAB and other security forces have rescued 13 hostages and kill six militants.
She also slammed television channels for hampering rescue operations and called for restraint while reporting these kinds of situation. Condemning the attack, she said, "What kind of humans kill during the Holy month of Ramzan."
We have been able to save 13 people, 6 gunmen have been killed: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina #DhakaAttack
— ANI (@ANI_news) July 2, 2016
What kind of humans are these, who are killing other humans during Ramzan?: Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina
— ANI (@ANI_news) July 2, 2016
All security agencies did a great job: Bangladesh PM on #DhakaAttack
— ANI (@ANI_news) July 2, 2016
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka's Gulshan area, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadis activity online. At least 35 people, including about 20 foreigners, were trapped inside the restaurant, said kitchen staffer Sumon Reza, who was among more than 10 people who managed to run to the rooftop and escape when the militants moved in Friday night.
The attack took place near the Nordic Club, where expatriates gather, and the Qatari, Italian and Egyptian embassies, as Bangladesh observes the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
French ambassador Sophie Aubert said the restaurant was "very popular" with diplomats and other foreigners in Dhaka.
With the sound of gunfire and explosions, local TV stations reported that the rescue operation began at 7:40 am. It included army personnel with automatic weapons and at least seven armored vehicles. Several ambulances were on standby.
Local media reported that an Argentine and two Bangladeshis were rescued from the restaurant early on Saturday, but details about their condition were not immediately available.
Commandos storming the restaurant discovered five bodies, a police official who was not identified told Channel 24 TV station.
In Tokyo, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said that 12 people were rescued in the raid, including two foreigners, but he couldn't say if they were Japanese. His information was based on Dhaka police.
A news agency affiliated with the Islamic Group claimed that 24 people had been killed and 40 wounded, including foreigners, according to SITE. The figures could not be independently confirmed.
The Amaq news agency also posted photos purportedly showing the bodies of hostages. The authenticity of the pictures could not be confirmed either.
The attack marks an escalation in the growing drumbeat of militant violence to hit the traditionally moderate Muslim-majority nation in the past three years, but with increasing frequency in recent months. Most attacks have been by machete-wielding men singling out individual activists, foreigners and religious minorities.
Bangladesh did not immediately respond to the claim of responsibility by Islamic State, but in the past have denied that the extremist group has a presence in the country. The US State Department said it had seen the Islamic State claim, but could not confirm its authenticity.
The attackers "have not responded to authorities' calls for negotiation," said a member of the elite anti-crime force, Rapid Action Battalion, identifying himself as Lt. Col. Masood, during an interview with the Indian TV channel Times Now.
He said that the security cordon would prevent any of the attackers from escaping. Authorities also ordered internet services to be blocked across the country, according to internet service provider Aamra.
Police said the two officers died at a hospital after being wounded in the initial gunfire with as many as nine attackers, who also hurled bombs. Ten of the 26 wounded were listed in critical condition, six of whom were on life support, according to hospital staff, who said the injuries ranged from broken bones to gunshot wounds. Only one civilian was among the wounded.
Reza said the attackers chanted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) as they launched the attack around 9:20 pm on Friday, initially opening fire with blanks. A huge contingent of security forces cordoned off the area around the bakery.
Some diners had managed to escape earlier including an Argentine chef and a Bangladeshi man who took refuge 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.
Another had told relatives he feared they would be killed if police tried to storm the restaurant to end the siege.
"He is very nervous," the man's uncle, who had spoken to him by phone, told AFP.
The restaurant's supervisor Sumon Reza who escaped by jumping from the roof told a local newspaper there were 20 foreigners being held hostage.
"I was in the roof. The whole building was shaking when they set off explosives," he said.
The nationalities of the hostages were not immediately clear. On Saturday, Japan's top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said at a hastily called news conference in Tokyo that the government is trying to confirm that Japanese were among the hostages. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that saving lives is the top priority.
"Some derailed youths have entered the restaurant and launched the attack," Benazir Ahmed said. "We have talked to some of the people who fled the restaurant after the attack. We want to resolve this peacefully. We are trying to talk to the attackers, we want to listen to them about what they want."
"Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside," Ahmed said. He would not say how many people were being held hostage.
Among the hostages was a businessman and his wife and two children, according to his uncle Anwarul Karim.
"My nephew Hasnat Karim called me and said he was inside with his family. He told me, 'Please save us, please!' And he hung up," he said. "We do not know what is going on there."
In Washington, a White House official said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack by his chief counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco. The president asked to be kept informed as the situation develops, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the president's meetings.
State Department spokesman John Kirby says the U.S. is in contact with the Bangladesh government and has offered its assistance to bring those responsible to justice.
He said all official American personnel are accounted for with no injuries reported, and the department is working with local authorities to determine if any U.S. citizens and locally-employed staff were affected.
The spree of recent attacks in Bangladesh have raised fears that religious extremists are gaining a foothold in the country, despite its traditions of secularism and tolerance.
About two dozen atheist writers, publishers, members of religious minorities, social activists and foreign aid workers have been slain since 2013. On Friday, a Hindu temple worker was hacked to death by at least three assailants in southwest Bangladesh. IS and and al-Qaida affiliates have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has cracked down on domestic radical Islamists. It has accused local terrorists and opposition political parties — especially the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami — of orchestrating the violence in order to destabilize the nation, which both parties deny.
With inputs from agencies