It is now known 33 hostages were taken by several gunmen shortly after 9pm local time Friday night. The hostages killed were all civilians. At least two police officers also died in the attack. At least six of the attackers were also killed.
Scores of commandos stormed the venue to rescue the hostages at around 8am Saturday morning.
The outcome of the rescue was clouded by a media blackout imposed by Bangladeshi authorities.
Undoubtedly security forces have been gathering the facts on the ground since their rescue attempt to assemble an accurate picture of what occurred before releasing it to the media.
At a press conference Saturday afternoon the grim news was revealed. Until that time it was understood 20 hostages had been taken, however the accurate number after identifying and classifying those rescued and bodies discovered inside the cafe, has been upgraded to 33.
The news that followed was even grimmer. While the rescue of 13 hostages had been known, the upgrade in the number of hostages means 20 of those had died in the attack. Officials confirmed this at the news conference and also revealed the victims had been hacked to death with blunt objects.
“It was an extremely heinous act,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a televised statement. “What kind of Muslims are these people? They don’t have any religion.”
“My government is determined to root out terrorism and militancy from Bangladesh.”
Police and the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) co-operated in managing the crisis.
Two explosions at the cafe since the commando raid occurred were believed to be part of a clearing operation by security forces to diffuse or detonate bombs and booby traps.
“Our commandos have stormed into the restaurant. Intense gunfighting on,” Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan, a deputy director at the RAB force, told Reuters shortly after 8am local time Saturday.
The drama unfolded just after 9pm local time on Friday night when gunmen stormed a restaurant/cafe frequented by foreigners in the diplomatic area in the heart of Dhaka.
A worker at the restaurant, the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe which opened just two years ago in June 2014, said six to 8 gunmen attacked the eatery which is popular among locals. Up to twenty people he believed had been taken hostage. The cafe worker said he managed to escape during the confusion.
In Italy, State TV RAI reported seven of the hostages were Italian businessmen. Italian ambassador in Dhaka, Mario Palma, told the channel an eighth Italian businessman escaped and alerted the embassy to the plight of the others.
Police and security forces surrounded the cafe. A gunfight erupted between the hostage-takers and law enforcement early on after the siege began. The attackers are believed to have thrown grenades during the battle. Two police officers are confirmed dead while 40 people were wounded in that battle. Following the gunfight, the situation quietened down. The hostage takers are believed to have refused to negotiate and did not make any demands.
“We want to resolve this peacefully. We are trying to talk to the attackers,” Benazir Ahmed, chief of Bangladesh’s RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), said Friday night. “Some of our people have been injured. Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside,” he said.
A late report said ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attack, however there is no confirmation of that and officials are skeptical as to the authenticity of the report.
Islamic State last month was accused of trying to ride a wave of religious radicalization by falsely claiming a spate of killings in Bangladesh, a government minister told Reuters in an interview in May, adding there was enough evidence implicating domestic militant groups.
Analysts say that as Islamic State loses territory in Iraq and Syria and its finances get drained, it may be trying to build affiliates in countries such as Libya, Egypt and Bangladesh for jihadists to launch attacks locally and cheaply.
But Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, told Reuters no local or foreign agency had found any presence of Islamic State in the country.
The U.S. State Department said Friday it believed al-Qaeda would more likely have carried out the attack.
The U.S. embassy in Dhaka has issued a warning to U.S. citizens to take shelter and follow instructions of local authorities. “There has been a shooting and hostage situation reported at Holey Bakery in Gulshan 2, Dhaka. Please shelter in place and monitor all news sources for further developments,” the U.S. embassy statement published late Friday night said. Separately John Kirby at the State Department advised all Americans working at the embassy, who were planning to celebrate the Independence Day weekend, have all been accounted for. Kirby told a press briefing the situation was “very fluid, very live.”
Separately on Friday at a temple in Jhinaidah district, 188 miles (300 kilometres) southwest of Dhaka, a Hindu priest was hacked to death.
Bangladesh, which has a population of 168 million, borders India and Myanmar. After India and Pakistan it is the third largest country in military and economic terms in Southeast Asia. Around 87% of the population is believed to be Muslim.