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Saturday, July 2

Dhaka cafe siege ends with commando raid: 20 hostages killed, 13 rescued, 40 wounded, 6 attackers killed and 1 taken alive

> The siege lasted 12 hours, according to a DNA (India) report; DNA also reports that "at least" 9 attackers stormed the cafe. If the number is correct and 6 attackers were killed and 1 captured, then at least two of the attackers escaped.  

> The number cited in the headline for hostages rescued is from the latest Reuters report (below). The CNN report (below) says that 14 hostages were rescued. 

> Most of the 20 hostages killed were hacked to death by the attackers; all the hostages killed were foreigners. 

> Reuters reports that there are questions about whether the attack was masterminded by Islamic State even though the group has claimed responsibility; it might have been a local outfit claiming the attack in Islamic State's name. The CNN report mentions that one U.S. official considers it more likely that AQIS is the perp.   

> See the 2015 report I linked to yesterday by C. Christine Fair and Seth Oldmixon, Think Again: Islamism and Militancy in Bangladesh, for background on the local terrorist groups. 

> See bdnews24.com (Bangladesh) for a blow-by-blow account on how the commando raid on the cafe unfolded.  

> I note from this passage in the Reuters report that the cafe might not have been the intended target:
The hostage crisis began when security guards in the Gulshan district of Dhaka, popular with expatriates, noticed several gunmen outside a medical center, Rizvi said. When the guards approached, the gunmen ran into the Holey Artisan cafe ... 

Sat Jul 2, 2016 4:48am EDT
Islamic gunmen kill 20 before Bangladesh commandos end siege


Islamic gunmen shouting "Allahu Akbar" attacked an upscale cafe in the Bangladeshi capital, killing 20 people inside, before police stormed the building on Saturday and rescued 13 hostages, officials said.

The attack, claimed by Islamic State, marks a major escalation in a campaign by Islamic militants over the past 18 months that had targeted mostly individuals advocating a secular or liberal approach in mostly Muslim Bangladesh.

Six gunmen were killed during the police operation and one was captured, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a TV broadcast.

"Most of (the hostages) were killed mercilessly by sharp weapons last night," before the siege began, Army Brigadier General Naim Asraf Chowdhury said.

The army concluded an operation to clear the cafe after a 12-hour siege that began when gunmen stormed the restaurant on Friday night. Two police were killed in the initial assault.

The 13 hostages that were rescued included one Japanese and two Sri Lankans, Chowdhury told a news conference. Police said earlier the gunmen were holding about 20 hostages.

One Japanese man was among those rescued and taken to a Dhaka hospital with a gunshot wound, a Japanese government spokesman said. Seven Japanese were unaccounted for.

Italy's ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palma, told Italian state TV seven Italians were among the hostages.

Islamic State posted photos of what it said were dead foreigners killed in the assault, which could deal a major blow to the country's vital $25 billion garment sector.

Police said they believed about eight to nine gunmen had been holed up in the cafe, armed with assault rifles and grenades.

Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to Hasina, told Reuters security forces had tried to negotiate with the gunmen.


The hostage crisis began when security guards in the Gulshan district of Dhaka, popular with expatriates, noticed several gunmen outside a medical center, Rizvi said. When the guards approached, the gunmen ran into the Holey Artisan cafe, which was packed with people waiting for tables, he said.

Ali Arsalan, co-owner of the restaurant, said that his staff told him the attackers yelled "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) as they stormed the building

Police said the assailants exchanged sporadic gunfire with police outside for several hours after the gunmen attacked the restaurant around 9 p.m. on Friday.

A police officer at the scene said that when security forces tried to enter the premises at the beginning of the siege they were met with a hail of bullets and grenades that killed at least two of them.

Television footage showed a number of police being led away from the site with blood on their faces and clothes.

A cafe employee who escaped told local television about 20 customers were in the restaurant at the time, most of them foreigners. Some 15 to 20 staff were working at the restaurant, the employee said.

The rescued Japanese man was eating dinner with seven other Japanese, all of whom were consultants for Japan's foreign aid agency, the Japanese government spokesman said. He did not know what happened to the others.


The hostage crisis marks an escalation from a recent spate of murders claimed by Islamic State and al Qaeda on liberals, gays, foreigners and religious minorities.

A Hindu priest was hacked to death on Friday at a temple in Jhinaidah district, 300 km (188 miles) southwest of Dhaka.

Both Islamic State and al Qaeda have claimed responsibility for many of the killings, although local authorities say no operational links exist between Bangladeshi militants and international jihadi networks.

Bangladesh security officials say two local militant groups, Ansar-al-Islam and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, have been behind the spate of violence over the past 18 months. Ansar pledges allegiance to al Qaeda, while Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen claims it represents Islamic State.

"The bottom line is Bangladesh has plenty of local, often unaffiliated, militants and radicals happy to stage attacks in ISIS's name," said Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at The Wilson Center in Washington D.C., using an acronym commonly used for Islamic State.

Islamic State had claimed more attacks in Bangladesh than in Pakistan or Afghanistan, he said.

The restaurant assault also comes after Bangladesh hanged an Islamist party leader, Motiur Rahman Nizami, on May 11 for genocide and other crimes committed during a 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. That has drawn an angry reaction and some scattered violence from supporters. Nizami, 73, was a former legislator and minister during opposition leader Khaleda Zia's last term as prime minister.

Foreign diplomats and human rights groups have warned that Bangladesh's ongoing war crime tribunals and the government's pressure on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have created a backlash domestically, according to Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"They need to maintain legal political space for Jamaat and the BNP so that they don't drive people into the shadows and violence," Adams said in a telephone interview, cautioning that it's not known whether that dynamic and the bloodshed in Dhaka were related.

(Additional reporting by Krishna Das and Rupam Jain in NEW DELHI, Isla Binnie in ROME, Melissa Fares in NEW YORK ande Stanley White in TOKYO; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by Nick Macfie)


Dhaka cafe standoff: 20 hostages killed, Bangladeshi official says
By Saeed Ahmed, Madison Park and Farid Ahmed, CNN
Updated 4:56 AM ET, Sat July 2, 2016

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) Gunmen seized a bakery in Dhaka, killing 20 hostages and two officers in an overnight siege that ended Saturday morning, the Bangladeshi military said.

All the hostages killed were foreigners, the military said.

The attackers used guns, explosive devices and "a lot of sharp domestic weapons," said Brig. Gen. Naeem Ashfaq Chowdhury of the Bangladesh army. The hostages' bodies were found after the standoff ended in the country's capital.

Fourteen hostages were rescued, said Brig. Gen. Mujibur Rahman of the Bangladesh army.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina provided a different number, but officials said the figures are preliminary.

"We were able to save 13 people, we weren't able to save a few ... and of these terrorists, six died on the spot," Hasina said at a news conference. One of the terrorists was captured alive, she said.

One Japanese national and two Sri Lankans were among the hostages rescued, officials from both nations said.

Bullets, shrapnel
Witnesses described chaotic scenes when the gunmen raided the Holey Artisan Bakery.

Cafe worker Sumon Reza said he saw six to eight gunmen enter the bakery, and escaped as they came in.

In his office nearby, Ataur Rahman said he heard a series of gunshots as people raced for cover, some yelling that the gunmen were shouting "Allahu Akbar."
When police arrived, the gunmen shot and threw explosives at officers, a witnesses said.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the terror attack, according to its media branch, Amaq, but some U.S. officials doubted the claim.

Even in a country that has become increasingly numb to Islamist attacks, the Holey Artisan Bakery standoff was particularly jolting in its brazenness.

It was not so much that the attack took place in a public place, in full view of a horrified public. Such public attacks have happened before — American blogger Avijit Roy was hacked with machetes outside Bangladesh's largest book fair.

It was not even that the targets were foreigners. That too has happened beforemore than once.  It was the time and the location that revolted many everyday Bangladeshis.

The gunmen went into the bakery on a Friday, the holiest day of the week in Islam, and at a time when the devout would be sitting down to break their fast in the holy month of Ramadan.

And they targeted not a bar or a club — the kinds of venues fundamentalist Muslims rail against — but a bakery.

Why did it happen at the bakery?

It's more likely because of the bakery's location: Gulshan.

Gulshan is one of Dhaka's most affluent neighborhoods. Perhaps more importantly for the attackers, it's a diplomatic enclave. Most of the embassies and high commissions have a presence in Gulshan.

Residents in the neighborhood expressed shock because the upscale neighborhood was considered safe with buildings behind walls, gated driveways and security guard booths.

Holey Artisan Bakery had become a popular destination for expats and diplomats, and attackers may have chosen it hoping for maximum global impact.

"They wanted maximum exposure. They got it," said Sadrul Kabir, a Gulshan resident.

Is ISIS behind the attack?

Though there was the reported ISIS claim of responsibility, the U.S. State Department said Friday that cannot be confirmed. Spokesman John Kirby said the State Department is assessing information.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a number of past attacks in Bangladesh through its media affiliates, but the government has consistently denied the terror group's presence in the country. Other attacks have been claimed by local Islamist groups.

"We don't want these terrorists in Bangladesh," the Prime Minister said. "This type of situation is a first in Bangladesh, until now they were committing individual murders. But now suddenly they created this type of situation. What they did here was a very heinous act.

But experts said Bangladesh is a target for terrorists.

"In the case of ISIS and its connection to international terrorism in Bangladesh, they have mentioned the country several times in Dabiq, their online journal," said Sajjan Gohel, the international security director at the Asia Pacific Foundation. 

"They talked about the fact that they were going to carry out more attacks, they were going to increase the tempo, and they were calling for volunteers from Bangladesh to join them."

One U.S. official familiar told CNN's Barbara Starr that based on past operations, it is more likely al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent conducted this attack -- not ISIS. The official said AQIS has demonstrated a more capable presence in Dhaka over the past few months than ISIS, and so far, all of its attacks in the nation have been in the city.


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