3 Jul 2016

Bangladesh in mourning after Dhaka attack

6:31 pm on 3 July 2016

Bangladesh has declared two days of national mourning for those killed when suspected Islamist extremists attacked a restaurant in the capital Dhaka.

Bangladeshi police officers help a colleague injured during an attack on an upscale Dhaka restaurant.

Bangladeshi police officers help a colleague injured during an attack on an upscale Dhaka restaurant. Photo: AFP

Twenty hostages, most of them foreign, were killed in the attack. Two police officers also died and 30 were injured.

Bangladeshi commandos rescued 13 people after a 12-hour siege, killing six gunmen and arresting another.

Nine Italians, seven Japanese, one US citizen and an Indian were among the dead. One Italian is unaccounted for.

Bangladesh's home minister said on Sunday that the attackers were not from the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, but belonged to a local militant group, which has been banned for more than a decade.

"They are members of the Jamaeytul Mujahdeen Bangladesh," Asaduzzaman Khan told the AFP news agency. "They have no connections with the Islamic State."

IS had earlier released photographs of the alleged attackers posing in front of a black IS flag.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina condemned the attack in a live television address.

"Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such acts," she said. "They do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism."

The attack took place in the Holey Artisan Bakery in an upmarket part of Dhaka.

Some of the hostages were reportedly tortured for not being able to recite a verse of the Koran.

Meanwhile, new accounts from survivors have emerged.

Argentine chef Diego Rossini told how the gunmen burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery on Friday evening with bombs and machine guns.

"I can't still believe this happened," he said. "It was like a movie, they pointed their guns at me and I could hear shots passing by. I was very, very afraid."

He said he escaped by running to the cafe terrace and jumping over to another building.

Italian businessman Gianni Boschetti had stepped into the cafe's garden to take a phone call when the attack began.

He threw himself into some bushes and then escaped. His sister-in-law told Italian television that he went from hospital to hospital looking for his wife only to find she was among those killed.

The militants are reported to have tortured and killed any of the hostages who could not recite a verse from the Koran.

An army spokesman said the victims had been "brutally" attacked with sharp weapons.

Bangladeshi police stand guard outside the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe,

Bangladeshi police stand guard outside the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka, where the siege took place. Photo: AFP

The siege began as diners were gathering to break their fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a televised statement. "What kind of Muslims are these people? They don't have any religion.

"My government is determined to root out terrorism and militancy from Bangladesh."

Bangladesh's Daily Star newspaper said the gunmen tortured anyone who was unable to recite the Koran. Meals were provided overnight, but only for the Bangladeshi captives, it said.

Sumon Reza, a supervisor at the cafe, was in the restaurant in Gulshan district when the attack began, but managed to flee to the roof.

"The whole building was shaking when they set off explosives," he told media in Bangladesh. He later jumped off the roof and escaped.

The attack began when a group of armed men burst into the cafe in the diplomatic area of the city at about 9.20pm on Friday and opened fire.

Media reports quoted witnesses as saying that "Allahu Akbar", meaning "God is great", was heard as the militants entered the cafe, which is popular with expatriates, diplomats and middle-class families.

A statement on the Islamic State self-styled news agency Amaq said militants had attacked a restaurant "frequented by foreigners".

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

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

- BBC

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