Armored vehicles arrive after militants took hostages at a restaurant popular with foreigners in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo / AP
The hostages were given a test: recite verses from the Koran, or be punished, according to a witness.
Those who passed were allowed to eat. Those who failed were tortured and slain.
dramatic, 10-hour hostage crisis that gripped Bangladesh’s diplomatic
zone ended with at least 28 dead, including six of the attackers.
raided the popular restaurant where heavily armed attackers were
holding dozens of foreigners and Bangladeshis prisoner while hurling
bombs and engaging in a gunbattle with security forces.
The victims included 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, and two Bangladeshi police officers.
attack marks an escalation in militant violence that has hit the
traditionally moderate Muslim-majority nation, with the extremists
demanding the secular Government set up Islamic rule. Most previous
attacks have involved machete-wielding men singling out individual
activists, foreigners and religious minorities.
But this attack was different, more coordinated, with the
attackers brandishing assault rifles as they stormed the Holey Artisan
Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan area.
The gunmen ordered restaurant
workers to switch off the lights, and they draped black cloths over
closed-circuit cameras, according to a survivor, who spoke to local TV
channel ATN News. He and others, including kitchen staff, managed to
escape by running to the rooftop or out the back door.
35 were trapped inside, their fate depending on whether they could prove
themselves to be Muslims, according to the father of a Bangladeshi
businessman who was rescued with his family. “The gunmen asked everyone
inside to recite from the Koran,” said Rezaul Karim, describing what his
son, Hasnat, had witnessed. “Those who recited were spared.” The
others, “were tortured”.
Detectives were questioning his son and
his family with other survivors as part of the investigation, as
scattered details of the siege emerged. Authorities were also
interrogating one of the attackers captured by commandos in the dramatic
rescue.Bangladesh authorities would not say if they had
made any demands. Isis (Islamic State) claimed responsibility, saying it
targeted the citizens of “Crusader countries” in the attack.
20 hostages killed by the militants included nine Italians, seven
Japanese, three Bangladeshis and one Indian. Ten of the 26 people who
were wounded when the militants opened fire were in critical condition.
Most of them were police officers, but one was a civilian.Two chefs working in the kitchen, Argentine Diego Rossini
and Italian Jacopo Bioni, described how they made a dramatic escape
during the initial attack by rushing to the rooftop terrace and then
jumping down two storeys onto a nearby building as the attackers chased
them, firing their weapons and hurling grenades.
“They were very
well prepared with bombs, guns, machine guns, it was horrible”, Rossini
told Argentine TV newscast C5N. “They pointed with their guns to me and I
could hear shots passing by. I was very, very afraid, like never before
in my whole life … It was one of the worst moments of my life.”
Italian, businessman Gianni Boschetti, was dining with his wife but had
just stepped into the restaurant garden to take a phone call when the
attack began. Italian state TV said Boschetti threw himself into bushes
and escaped. His sister-in-law, Patrizia D’Antona, said that he
“wandered all night” from hospital to hospital in hopes of finding his
wife, 56-year-old Claudia Maria D’Antona. She was later identified as
among the nine Italians found slain.
In the end, paramilitary
troops managed to rescue 13 hostages, including one Argentine, two Sri
Lankans and two Bangladeshis, according to Lieutenant Colonel Tuhin
Mohammad Masud, commander of the Rapid Action Battalion. Japan’s
Government said one Japanese hostage was also rescued with a gunshot
wound. The commandos went in after the attackers did not respond to
calls for negotiation, Masud said.