20 killed in Bangladesh restaurant hostage carnage
Twenty foreigners were killed by their captors after being taken hostage at a cafe in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka and most of the victims were either Italian or Japanese, an army officer said on Saturday.
"All 20 of the hostages who were killed were foreigners," Lieutenant Shahab Uddin told AFP. "Most of them were Italian or Japanese," he added without giving an exact breakdown of the toll.
Officials had earlier said that six gunmen were killed when security forces stormed the cafe on Saturday morning while two police officers were slain in a firefight that erupted at the beginning of the siege on Friday night.
Gunshots and explosions were heard as security forces moved it to free hostages held by gunmen who attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in the capital's diplomatic zone on Friday night.
The Islamic State group had claimed responsibility for the attack through its Aamaq news agency, however authorities have yet to confirm the claim.
The Aamaq news agency also posted photos purportedly showing the bodies of hostages. The authenticity of the pictures could not be confirmed either.
At least 35 people, including about 20 foreigners, were trapped inside the restaurant, said kitchen staffer Sumon Reza, who was among more than 10 people who managed to run to the rooftop and escape when the militants moved in Friday night.
With the sound of gunfire and explosions, local TV stations reported that the rescue operation began at 7:40 am. It included army personnel with automatic weapons and at least seven armored vehicles. Several ambulances were on standby.
The incident took place near the Nordic Club, where expatriates of Nordic nations gather, and the Qatar embassy.
Bangladesh has been reeling from a wave of murders of religious minorities and secular activists by suspected Islamist militants.
Nearly two dozen atheist writers, publishers, members of religious minorities, social activists and foreign aid workers have been slain since 2013 by attackers. The frequency of attacks has increased in recent months.
Earlier Friday a Hindu temple worker was hacked to death in western Bangladesh.
Police also shot dead two Islamist students suspected in last month's murder of an Hindu priest and arrested a top Islamist militant who masterminded an attack on a Hindu lecturer last month.
The attacks have raised fears that religious extremists are gaining a foothold in the country, despite its traditions of secularism and tolerance.The Islamic State group and al-Qaeda affiliates have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks but the government denies that either group has a presence in the country.