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.
A group of Islamist gunmen hacked to death at least 20 hostages —before six of them were shot dead by Bangladesh soldiers ending an hours-long hostage crisis inside the Holey Artisan Bakery on Saturday.
“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 and rescued 13 people, including a Japanese and two Sri Lankan nationals.
Two Bangladesh police officials were killed during an operation to break the siege Friday night.
Reuters quoted a Japanese government spokesperson that seven Japanese nationals, all working as consultants for Japan’s foreign aid agency, were killed while another Japanese escaped with injuries.
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said nine Italian hostages were killed while another is still unaccounted for.
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 an Argentine channel how he managed to escape into the next-door building during the siege.
“They (the hostage-takers) 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.”
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.
One among the killed was Bangladeshi national Ishrat Akhond, a human resources director at 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.
Three Bangladeshis were also killed during the siege.
Tarishi Jain, 19, from India was also among those killed.
While six hostage-takers were shot dead, one was captured alive.
Earlier, 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