There were around 20-22 guests, including foreigners, at the popular Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Gulshan area when a group of gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” raided the cafe around 9 pm on Friday.
Police moved in soon. But they pulled back after two officers - assistant commissioner Rabiul Islam of the Detective Branch, and Banani police station in-charge Salahuddin -- were killed in the first exchange of fire.
Law enforcement agencies then sealed off the area.
After waiting through the night, following directives from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, armed forces joined the Rapid Action Battalion and police in the morning to launch the assault, codenamed ‘Operation Thunderbolt’, along with the other security agencies.
Around 7.40am, security forces stormed the café in the Gulshan diplomatic zone and several hostages were freed minutes after the offensive began, a witness told bdnews24.com.
Heavy firing and explosions continued for at least an hour after the operation had begun to free the hostages.
A witness who saw the assault from an adjacent building said armymen in two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) tore down the wall of the café and the commandos entered the cafe through the breach.
More than 1,000 rounds were fired and nearly 1,000 explosions were reported in the 30 minutes of the raid.
A resident at a building, just 50 yards from the scene, reported spotting snipers on the roof of another building, firing from their guns.
At a media call later in the afternoon, Bangladesh Army’s Brig Gen Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury said that ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ ended around 8.30am.
He said they had found 20 bodies of foreign nationals, but did not disclose their identities. He said all of them were killed late Friday night with sharp weapons.
Brigadier Chowdhury, director of military operations in the Bangladesh Army, said that 13 people, including a Japanese and two Sri Lankans, were rescued from the restaurant.
The commandos took less than 15 minutes to complete the operation. Within 12 to 13 minutes our men were able to take out the terrorists and took total control, he said.
Chowdhury said that there were seven attackers, one of whom was captured alive, and the rest killed during the assault.
Fire-fighters also rushed to the spot with extinguishers and hosepipes, though no fire could be spotted.
A medical team was also seen rushing to the scene with stretchers.
After a while, a loud bang rocked the area, but the security personnel in the café were indifferent to it, suggesting these were controlled explosions of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) recovered from the scene.
Around the same time, members of different forces who had taken position in various buildings in the area before and during the raid came out and were seen embracing each other.
Blood was seen in front of the gate of the café’s main building when security officials were leaving it. A police official was shot at that spot Friday night.
Around 9.40am, another loud bang was heard as the bomb disposal unit continued to explode the seized bombs in a controlled environment.
After the operation ended, several youths, who appeared to be handcuffed, were seen lying in the garage of a high-rise building beside the café. But they could not be identified.
Since 8.15am, hostages, including women and children, were seen rushing out of the eatery one after another. They were taken to hospitals in ambulances.
After the operation, IGP AKM Shahidul Hoque said that 18 people were rescued. But he left without answering how many died.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who called the incident a ‘militant attack’, said later in the morning that 13 hostages were saved.
She added that one of the seven gunmen was captured alive and the rest were killed during the operation.