Gunshots and explosions were heard Saturday morning as Bangladeshi police stormed a café and rescued at least a 12 hostages held by attackers in the country’s capital, Dhaka.
A group of gunmen had attacked the building Friday and took dozens of hostages, including foreigners, according to local media reports.
News reports quote a police official as saying at least 12 hostages have been freed and five bodies were found in a pool of blood, by a squad of army troops and local police, who forced their way into the café. It’s not clear how many of those rescued are foreigners, and there’s no confirmation that the operation has ended.
According to Reuters, two police officers were killed and at least 20 wounded in an earlier gunbattle between police and the assailants. Police estimate at least eight attackers are involved.
It’s not clear how many casualties resulted from the militants’ original attack.
The Associated Press cites a café worker, Sumon Reza, as saying at least 35 people, including about 20 foreigners, were trapped inside. Reza says he was one of 10 people who managed to escape through the rooftop when the militants moved in Friday night.
The U.S State Department and local media say the café is in an upscale neighborhood called Gulshan that is home to many foreign embassies.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released by its Aamaq news agency, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant websites. The group posted photos of what it claims to be dead foreigners killed during the Dhaka café attack, although NPR could not independently verify their authenticity. U.S. officials also say they have no independent confirmation that ISIS is linked to the siege.
According to the Dhaka Tribune, the director general of the Rapid Action Brigade, Benazir Ahmed, said there was shooting at the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe and that a hostage situation was unfolding elsewhere in the same building, at the O’kitchen restaurant. However, the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka said the hostage situation was happening at the Holey bakery.
The embassy tweeted that people should shelter in place.
“Some derailed youths have entered the restaurant and launched the attack,” Ahmed told The Associated Press. “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.”
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the situation is “very fluid, very live,” but that “all American citizens working under the Chief of Mission Authority” have been accounted for.
Kirby said the department is still working to account for staffers of other nationalities.
It’s not clear what motivated the attack. But Bangladesh has recently seen a string of armed attacks against prominent atheists, secularists and members of the LGBT community.
There are multiple active militant groups in the country, including an al-Qaida affiliate. ISIS has claimed responsibility for some recent attacks, though Bangladeshi authorities say the group has no presence in the country.
This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.