Bangladesh in mourning after militants kill 20 hostages in cafe siege
During negotiations with the joint forces, the militants holed up in the upscale Holey Artisan Bakery demanded the release of Khaled Saifullah, an activist of the banned militant outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh which wants to establish an Islamic State in Bangladesh. The recent spate of attacks on some 19 individuals from religious minority population are all being attributed to JMB. The group may be behind Friday’s bakery attack too as they mercilessly killed foreigners and the country’s elite.
DHAKA, Bangladesh—Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced a two-day state mourning for those killed after Islamist gunmen attacked a cafe here late on Friday.
A group of Islamist gunmen hacked to death at least 20 hostages — 17 of them foreigners — before six of them were shot dead by Bangladesh soldiers ending an hours-long hostage crisis inside the Holey Artisan Bakery on Saturday.
Among the dead were nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian and three Bangladeshi nationals.
Although the US State Department said one of its citizens was killed during the siege, it gave no details about the victim.
“We found 20 bodies, all of them murdered Friday night using sharp weapons,” Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury said at a media briefing.
Bangladesh joint forces launched ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ around 7.40 am, nearly 11 hours after the siege began around 9.10 pm Friday.
After a massive gunfight, they killed six of the seven militants holed up in the bakery, captured one alive and rescued 13 people, including a Japanese and two Sri Lankan nationals.
Five of the seven attackers — all Bangladeshi citizens — were wanted by police for terrorist activities, and a search had been under way across the country to arrest them, AKM Shahidul Hoque, Inspector General of Police, said.
Two Bangladesh police officials — Banani police officer-in-charge Salauddin and assistant commissioner of police Rabiul Islam — were killed during the operation to break the siege on Friday night.
Reuters quoted a Japanese government spokesperson that seven Japanese nationals, all working as consultants for Japan’s foreign aid agency (JICA), were killed while another Japanese escaped with injuries.
Kyodo News said seven victims were Makoto Okamura, Yuko Sakai, Rui Shimodaira, Hiroshi Tanaka, Nobuhiro Kurosaki, Hideki Hashimoto, and Koyo Ogasawara from 3 Tokyo-based construction consulting companies: Almec Corp., Oriental Consultants Global, and Katahira & Engineers International.
Okamura’s father Komakichi Okamura told Japanese media that he had warned his son about terrorist menace in Bangladesh.
The Japanese government is planning to send a plane to Bangladesh on Sunday evening to bring family members of the victims.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said nine Italian hostages were killed while another is still unaccounted for. Those killed were Adele Puglisi, Marco Tondat, Claudia Maria D’antona, Nadia Benedetti, Vincenzo D’allestro, Maria Rivoli , Cristian Rossi, Claudio Cappelli and Simona Monti.
Those who could recite Quran spared
Among the 13 hostages rescued was the family of Hasnat Karim, an engineer by profession. He, along with his wife Sharmin Parvin, and two children, had gone to the upscale eatery to celebrate the birthday of one of their children.
Hasnat’s father Rezaul Karim, quoting him, said the hostage-takers separated the locals from foreigners. While the foreigners were taken to the upper floor, the Bangladeshis were kept around a table.
Karim’s mother told media that the hostage-takers asked Bangladeshis to recite from the Quran. “Those who did were given dinner,” she said. “The gunmen treated Parvin (Karim’s wife) well as she was wearing a Hizab (an Islamic veil). My son said the terrorists killed some of the foreigners during the night.”
Diego Rossini, an Argentine chef, described to a channel how he managed to escape into the next-door building during the siege.
When the firing began, he led an Italian chef, Jacopo Bioni, 34, up the roof. But the militants came chasing them.
“They had automatic weapons and bombs,” he said. “I felt bullets pass so close to me, I felt fear like I’ve never felt in my life.”
The two then jumped into the adjacent building and escaped.
A sudden phone call saved Italian businessman Gianni Boschetti. He had just stepped into the restaurant’s garden to attend the call when the firing began. He escaped and called the Italian embassy.
His wife Claudia D’Antona was not so lucky. She was among the nine Italian diners found dead inside the bakery.
Among the Bangladeshi nationals killed was Ishrat Akhond, a human resources director with a private firm in Dhaka. Friends of Akhond, living in Dhaka and abroad, were seen mourning her loss on social media.
“We mourn those we know personally and pray for those we don’t. Never saw her without a smile. Ishrat Akhond, You are Happiness. Will always remember her that way,” wrote Gibran Tanwir, Akhon’s friend, on Facebook.
Another Bangladeshi victim was Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, 20, an undergraduate at Emory’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, U.S.
The third victim was Abinta Kabir, 18, another undergraduate at Emory’s Oxford College from Miami but hailing “from Dhaka” as her Facebook posting suggests.
Tarishi Jain, 19, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, was the lone victim from India.
Tarishi’s father Sanjiv Jain runs a garment manufacturing and export business in Dhaka. Although her family had been living in Bangladesh for the past many years, they remained Indian citizens.
Sanjiv, who was nervously waiting outside the bakery as the 10-hour hostage drama dragged through the night, got a call from his daughter around 6 am.
Tarishi said she was hiding inside a toilet with her U.S. friends Faraaz and Abinta and that she was not sure if she will be able to escape the terrorists who were torturing the hostages before slaughtering them one by one.
She, along with her father and mother Tulika, was to join her brother Sanchit in Delhi on Saturday from where they were planning to go to Firozabad to spend some days with her paternal uncles before heading back to the U.S.
SITE, the website monitoring jihadists, quoted the Islamic State-affiliated Amaq news agency as saying that IS claimed killing 24 hostages during the siege. As proof, it posted photos of some of the victims.
However, during negotiations with the joint forces, the militants had demanded the release of Khaled Saifullah, an activist of the banned militant outfit Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) who was arrested from Demra in the outskirts of Dhaka recently. The terrorists also demanded a free passage.
JMB was formed in 1998 to establish an Islamic State in Bangladesh. The outfit came into prominence in August 2005 when within a matter of 40 minutes, their militants exploded 460 crude bombs at 300 locations in 63 of 64 districts.
Following its ban soon after, JMB and its activists had been in constant conflict with the government, especially the law enforcing agency officials.
The recent spate of 19 attacks on individuals from religious minority population are all being attributed to JMB by law enforcing agencies and terror and conflict experts in Bangladesh.
Sources say JMB is trying to act as the local chapter of IS in Bangladesh. The unprecedented attack on the Dhaka bakery confirms this notion.
In the meantime, Bhabashindhu Bar, a priest of a Hindu temple in Satkhira, was attacked by unknown assailants early on Saturday .
According to Satkhira police, the assailants entered the temple around 4 am. After tying up the security guards, they hacked Bar and fled.
Local people, alerted by the guards, rushed the critically wounded priest to a nearby hospital.
Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist and editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.