DHAKA: Bangladesh’s prime minister implored Islamist militants to stop killing in the name of religion on Saturday after 20 hostages were slaughtered in a restaurant packed with foreigners.
Nine victims were Italian while Japan confirmed that seven of its nationals were killed. A US citizen and a 19-year-old Indian who was studying in California were also among the dead.
As the militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the bloodbath in the capital, survivors spoke of how the hostage-takers separated locals from foreigners before embarking on a killing spree.
Most of the victims hacked to death in ‘IS attack’
The siege, which began late on Friday, was brought to an end nearly 11 hours later when elite commandos stormed the Western-style Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in the upmarket Gulshan neighbourhood, killing six hostage-takers.
One of the assailants was captured alive, the army said.
Security officials said most of the victims were slaughtered with sharpened machete-style weapons.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government has previously blamed a string of deadly attacks against religious minorities and foreigners on domestic opponents but the latest incident will heighten fears that IS’s reach is spreading.
“Islam is a religion of peace. Stop killing in the name of the religion,” Hasina said in an impassioned televised address to the nation in which she declared two days of mourning.
“Please stop tarnishing our noble religion ... I implore you to come back to the rightful path and uphold the pride of Islam.”
The attack, by far the deadliest of a recent wave of killings claimed by IS or a local Al Qaeda offshoot, was carried out in a neighbourhood which is home to the country’s elite and houses many embassies.
Announcing the end of the siege, officials said 13 hostages had been rescued after members of a special force took control of the cafe.
But while Hasina called the outcome a “success”, the security forces later revealed that 20 of those taken captive were killed.
“Most of them had been brutally hacked to death with sharp weapons,” an army spokesman, Brigadier General Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury, told reporters.
The area around the restaurant was cordoned off after the militants launched their attack and then became involved in a fierce gunfight.
Police said two officers, including the head of the local police station, were killed in the initial stages. Around two dozen officers were injured.
An army spokesman said the dead hostages included nine Italians, seven Japanese, one Indian, one US citizen of Bangladeshi origin and two Bangladeshis. “Eleven were males and nine females,” Colonel Rashidul Hasan said.
Italy’s government confirmed that nine of its nationals had been killed and a tenth was unaccounted for.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: “Our duty is to reply with even greater force, by affirming our values, the values of freedom of which we are proud, and which are stronger than hatred or terror.”
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a late night news conference that seven Japanese nationals were among the dead.
US officials said one American citizen was among those killed. And the government in New Delhi confirmed that a 19-year-old Indian who was studying at the University of California, Berkeley, had died.
Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2016