Heavily armed Bangladeshi military commandos have stormed a Dhaka restaurant where suspected Islamist militants had been holding people hostage for ten hours following a deadly firefight with police earlier on. Eyewitnesses said there was a gunfight as security forces launched the operation. The German DPA news agency reported that five gunmen had been killed.
"Our commandos have stormed into the restaurant. Intense gun fighting on," Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan, a deputy director at the Rapid Action Battalion force, told the Reuters news agency. At least eight hostages were successfully freed as the operation continued. Some sources said it was as many as 12 hostages.
Bangladesh TV stations had reported earlier that the attackers entered the Holey Artisan Bakery and O'Kitchen Spanish restaurant in Dhaka's Gulshan area around 9:20 pm local time (13:20 UTC) on Friday and were holding at least 20 customers and staff hostage.
Many of those held captive were reportedly foreigners. Italian state television said that there were seven Italians among the hostages. Japanese citizens may also likely be among the hostages.
The self-styled "Islamic State" militant group (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. TV reports said the identities of the individual attackers were not immediately known, while police added the gunmen had not made any demands throughout the siege.
IS shows graphic images from attack
The restaurant's supervisor Sumon Reza, who had escaped the scene earlier by jumping from the roof, told a local newspaper the attackers had detonated explosives during a gun battle with security forces. Police added that the gunmen burst in shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is the Greatest) at the beginning of the deadly assault.
The Dhaka Tribune newspaper initially reported that two police officers were killed and 25 police injured, along with one civilian. That number is suspected to have risen, as the IS-affiliated Amaq news agency announced that more than 20 people had been killed in the restaurant. The death toll cited by Amaq could not be corroborated. Amaq also distributed graphic images online, showing what they claimed were civilian victims of the attack.
Hospital authorities meanwhile said 10 people were in a critical condition.
US State Department monitoring the situation
The US State Department said earlier that the hostage situation was "still fluid" and that all US citizens working under the chief of mission had all been accounted for. There was, however, no word on non-US citizens working for the US mission. The US embassy in Dhaka meanwhile warned all American nationals to remain where they were safe.
A series of deadly attacks, mostly using machetes rather than guns, have targeted bloggers, atheists and religious minorities in Bangladesh in recent months.
mm,ss/kl,bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)