Several foreigners and at least one senior police official were feared killed when gunmen purportedly belonging to the Islamic State attacked a restaurant in the diplomatic zone of the Bangladeshi capital late Friday and took 30 hostages.
US-based SITE Intelligence Group quoted Islamic State-aligned Amaq News Agency that said IS fighters carried out the attack and had killed more than 20 foreigners at Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan area.
A chef who escaped when the attack began at around 9pm said an Argentinian and an Australian were killed when the gunmen entered the café, according to local media.
All officials at the Indian high commission, which is located roughly a mile from the café, were safe and the situation was being monitored closely, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
The US state department said there was a hostage situation in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka.
Reports of shooting and hostage situation in Gulshan 2, Dhaka. Please shelter in place and monitor news.— U.S. Embassy Dhaka (@usembassydhaka) July 1, 2016
A huge contingent of security guards cordoned off the area and the restaurant as they traded gunfire with the attackers who set off explosions.
Bangladeshi news outlet The Daily Star said an assistant commissioner of police and the neighbourhood police station in-charge were among the casualties.
“We are trying to negotiate with the gunmen holed up inside the restaurant,” Rapid Action Battalion chief Benazir Ahmed told reporters. “Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside.”
Speaking from his house in the area, a witness said he could hear gunfire and that the situation “looked quite bad”.
A series of deadly attacks, mostly using machetes rather than guns, have targeted bloggers, atheists and religious minorities in Bangladesh in recent months.
Jamuna Television reported quoting a kitchen staff worker at the restaurant who escaped the attack that the gunmen chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God Is Great) as they launched the attack.
“Some derailed youths have entered the restaurant and launched the attack. 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,” Ahmed said.
Bangladesh, a traditionally moderate Muslim-majority nation, has recently seen an upsurge in militant violence. Nearly two dozen atheist writers, publishers, members of religious minorities, social activists and foreign aid workers have been slain since 2013 by attackers. The frequency of attacks has increased in recent months. On Friday, a Hindu temple worker was hacked to death in southwest Bangladesh.
The attacks have raised fears that religious extremists are gaining a foothold in the country, despite its traditions of secularism and tolerance.
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.
The Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliates have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks but the government denies that either group has a presence in the country