Friday, July 01, 2016

Bangladesh Police Storm Hostage Cafe
BBC World Service

Hundreds of police are storming a cafe in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, where gunman took at least 20 hostages on Friday, security officials say.

Reports say several of those held are Italian, and a spokesman in Tokyo said some may be Japanese.

The militant group Islamic State has said it carried out the attack.

A BBC correspondent at the scene says gunfire was heard early on Saturday morning. At least two police officers were killed in earlier exchanges.

Thirty other police officers have been injured.

"The operation has began. Commandos have stormed the restaurant," an official told the AFP news agency after a tense overnight stand-off.

Eight or nine armed men burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe at about 21:20 (13:20 GMT) on Friday and opened fire.

A statement on the IS self-styled news agency Amaq said militants had attacked a restaurant "frequented by foreigners". It said that more than 20 people "of different nationalities" had been killed but this has not been confirmed.

Seven Italian nationals are believed to be in the cafe, the Italian ambassador in Dhaka, Mario Palma, was quoted as saying by Italian media.

A Japanese government spokesman said Tokyo was investigating reports that some of its citizens were among the hostages.

The attack comes after a spate of murders of secular bloggers, gay activists, academics and members of religious minorities, blamed on Islamist militants.

Analysis: Anbarasan Ethirajan, former BBC Bangladesh correspondent

This is probably the first time ever foreigners have been taken hostages in Bangladesh.

Though there have been a number of killings focusing on academics, activists and member of religious minorities, attacks on foreigners are rare.

The timing is important. Bangladesh has been gearing up for the Muslim religious festival of Eid, and most people have started going to their homes in villages and towns across the country for a week-long holiday period.

The government has always denied the presence of Islamic State militant group in Bangladesh.

So far the militants have targeted individuals and sometimes security forces. But storming a cafe in a heavily guarded diplomatic district is unprecedented and a dramatic escalation in violence.

The government has been caught unaware, and the attack exposes a big hole in Bangladesh's intelligence gathering and security system.

A Dhaka hospital said about 30 police officers had been injured
Bangladeshi security forces near restaurant attacked by unidentified gunmen in Dhaka. July 2,

The cafe is described as being popular with expatriates, diplomats and middle-class families.

Media reports quoted witnesses as saying that "Allahu Akbar", meaning "God is greatest", was heard as the attack took place.

BBC South Asia editor Jill McGivering says that although high-profile gun attacks are rare in Bangladesh, the latest incident follows a series of murders widely blamed on Islamist extremists.

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