ISIS claimed responsibility for a Bangladesh cafe attack today while hostages were still inside with gunmen.
“Islamic State commandos attack a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh,” reported the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency, which issued the first claim for the Orlando nightclub shooting.
They likely wanted to get a claim out quickly because they’re competing with another terror group in Bangladesh: al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.
AQIS had not made any mention of the attack on their Twitter account or WordPress blog. They did reissue their hit-list guidelines on Wednesday, hinting at an upcoming attack.
Both AQIS and ISIS to this point have been conducting machete attacks on targets, with the latter copying their rival in execution but broadening the hit list to a wider range of targets.
From seven to eight gunmen stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery at about 9:20 p.m. The light, modern, attractive eatery advertises itself as “the only truly Artisan Bakery Shop between Mumbai and Singapore” and their menu ranges from “sticky ‘sinful’ buns” to steak-and-ale pie. Shortly before the attack, the bakery posted a picture of fresh grape and kiwi tarts on their Facebook page.
It’s a short walk from several embassies, including Qatar, Russia and Romania.
The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka sent out an emergency message to U.S. citizens telling them to “please shelter in place, follow instructions of local authorities, and monitor all news sources for further developments.”
The estimate of customer and staff hostages was about 40, officials said.
At least four police officers had already been killed and as many as 30 injured in exchanges of gunfire with the terrorists and by a grenade the attackers threw at cops as they rushed to help an escaping hostage.
The Hindu reported that TV stations had been asked to stop live broadcasts from the scene.
A waiter who escaped described the gunmen as young and well-dressed with a “comfortable” attitude. One police official referred to them as “derailed youths.” They were heavily armed.
“Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco has briefed the president on the ongoing situation in Dhaka, Bangladesh,” a White House official said. “The president asked to be kept informed as the situation develops.”
State Department press secretary John Kirby said they had “accounted for 100 percent of the American citizens working under the chief of mission authority.”
“Obviously, too early for us to say who’s involved, motivation, any of that stuff. It’s all still unfolding right now. We’ll obviously update you as the situation continues to unfold and more information becomes available,” Kirby said at the afternoon briefing.
The U.S. government on Thursday designated AQIS as a foreign terrorist organization.
In February 2015, Bangladeshi-American secularist blogger Avijit Roy was hacked to death on a Dhaka street. “The target was an American citizen.. 2 in 1. #America recently martyred 2 of our brothers in #Khurasan & #Shaam. #Revenge+#Punishment,” Ansar al-Islam Bangladesh tweeted afterward.
Roy was a dual U.S.-Bangladesh citizen who lived in Atlanta and was in Bangladesh for a month. His wife, Rafida Ahmed Bonna, was with him at the time of the attack and was severely wounded, with one of her fingers severed by the pair of machete-wielding attackers.
UPDATE 9:45 p.m. EST: ISIS’ Amaq agency has posted online photos it says are from inside the restaurant. The images show large pools of blood on the floor and several bodies. The style of chairs and tables in the photos matches Google Earth photos of the restaurant. In one image, bodies lay next to a freshly served meal on the patio.
Amaq claimed ISIS has killed 24 people of different nationalities so far and “Islamic State commandos in Dhaka still hold several hostages inside the Artisan restaurant.”
UPDATE 1 a.m. EST: The standoff is over after 11 hours. Witnesses reported explosions and gunfire as Bangladeshi forces stormed the restaurant at dawn.
So far, officials are putting the toll at 6 gunmen killed, 5 bodies found in the restaurant, and 14 hostages rescued. Unofficial reports said there may be gunmen at large. Officials were scheduled to hold a news conference later in the day.