Updated at 1:03 p.m. ET on 2016-07-02
Terrorists killed 20 mostly foreign hostages at a restaurant in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter before Bangladeshi security forces stormed the place early Saturday to end a 10-hour standoff, officials said.
Nine Italians, seven Japanese, an Indian national and a U.S. citizen were among the 28 people who died in the overnight onslaught, statements issued by authorities in those countries said. The death toll included two Bangladeshi policemen and six attackers.
Thirteen people were rescued from the café during an operation mounted by army commandoes at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan 2 area on Saturday morning.
The Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed angry words at extremists in her country.
"Islam is a religion of peace. Stop killing in the name of the religion…Please stop tarnishing our noble religion,” Hasina said, according to AFP.
She asked her nation to increase vigilance against terrorism, and said those behind the attacks were trying to destroy Bangladesh.
"By holding innocent civilians hostage at gunpoint, they want to turn our nation into a failed state," she said.
Nations directly impacted by the attack confirmed their losses and expressed grief.
"The terrorists want to rip away the daily fabric of our lives. Our duty is to reply with even greater force, by affirming our values, the values of freedom of which we are proud, and which are stronger than hatred or terror," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said, according to AFP. Five of the Italian victims were women.
An Indian teenager named as 19-year-old Tarishi Jain was among those killed, according to reports.
"I am extremely pained to share that the terrorists have killed Tarishi, an Indian girl who was taken hostage in the terror attack in Dhaka," India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj posted on Twitter.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed condolences via a series of tweets. "India stands firmly with our brothers and sisters in Bangladesh in this hour of grief," he added.
“The United States condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 1-2,” the White House said in a statement.
“This heinous attack resulted in as many as 20 deaths, including an American citizen, Bangladeshi law enforcement personnel, and citizens of several other nations,” it said.
“This is a despicable act of terrorism, and the United States stands with Bangladesh and the international community in our resolve to confront terrorism wherever it occurs.”
Hasina ordered the army to carry out a rescue operation at the Holey Artisan Bakery Saturday morning, about 10 hours after heavily armed men shouting “Allahu Akbar” stormed the place and took hostages Friday night, Brig. Gen. Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury told reporters in Dhaka.
“In this operation, six terrorists were killed and one of the suspected terrorists captured alive. Besides, dead bodies of 20 foreigners were recovered – most of them were hacked to death – in the search after the operation,” he said.
“All of the 20 hostages were brutally killed by sharp weapons the previous night,” Chowdhury, the army’s director of military operations, said at a press briefing.
Two Sri Lankan and one Japanese national were among the 13 people rescued in the army-led operation, which was launched at 7:40 a.m. and ended 50 minutes later, Chowdhury said.
The twenty dead may include some Bangladesh nationals, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director Rashidul Hasan later told BenarNews, in an update of earlier information.
Hours earlier, the news agency of the so-called Islamic State, announced that IS had carried out the attack and that at least 24 people had been killed. Amaq posted pictures showing what it said were dead and bloodied bodies inside the café.
Italy's ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, told Italian state TV that seven Italians were among the hostages.
"It is a suicide attack. They want to carry out a powerful and bloody operation and there is no room for negotiation," Palma said, according to Reuters.
“They will kill us if police open fire on them,” hostage Hasnat Karim told his uncle by phone from inside the bakery at around 10:41 p.m, according to Prothom Alo.
Two policemen were killed and at least 25 other people were injured as police attempted to respond to the hostage-taking, officials said.
A police officer in riot gear told reporters to stay back as attackers fired shots and hurled explosives whenever law enforcement agents approached the restaurant.
The two slain policemen were identified as Salahuddin Ahmed Khan, an officer-in-charge of the Banani police station, and Robiul Islam, an assistant commissioner, said Sheikh Nazrul Alam, deputy commissioner of the detective branch
The attackers had four pistols, one Romanian-made AK-22 rifle, four unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs), one walkie-talkie and sharp weapons, Chowdhury, the army spokesman, said Saturday.
Men assist an injured policeman after gunmen holding hostages in a Dhaka restaurant hurled grenades at law enforcement officials, July 2, 2016. [AFP]
Late Friday, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) Director General Benazir Ahmed said authorities would attempt to negotiate with the assailants.
“We want to resolve the hostage crisis in peaceful manner. We want to talk to the attackers, too. Every life is important for us,” he said.
The majority Muslim nation of 160 million people has experienced a surge of extremist violence that claimed at least 37 lives since 2013. Suspected militants have targeted religious minorities, intellectuals, writers, gay-rights activists and foreigners.
A modern video surveillance system was recently put in place at Gulshan-2, Asian News Network reported on May 24. 700 cameras had been installed and 500 more were set to be added, it said.
"The whole diplomatic area is now under the foolproof surveillance system," Rafiqul Islam, assistant commissioner of Gulshan Zone, was quoted as saying. 150 million taka (US$1.87 million) had been spent on the system thus far, the report said.
Shahriar Sharif in Dhaka, Rohit Wadhwaney in Rambha, India and Imran Vittachi in Washington contributed to this report.