Heavily-armed Bangladeshi commandos on Saturday stormed a restaurant in Dhaka's high-security diplomatic area where suspected Islamic State militants were holding many people hostage, including foreigners, since last night.
Gunshots and sounds of explosion started to rock the area at 7:40 AM (local time) as security forces launched an offensive to end the 11-hour-long hostage crisis at a cafe in Dhaka's diplomatic zone Gulshan.
Armed terrorists are believed to be holding captive at least 20 people at the cafe in the diplomatic zone. Unconfirmed reports said many of the hostages had been freed from the restaurant but were injured.
After hours of quiet at the Holey Artisan Bakery where terrorists were holding hostages, a fresh round of heavy gunfire rang out, witnesses told CNN.
The hostage crisis followed a Friday night gun-battle with police that left at least two senior officers dead and 40 people injured.
Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack through its Amaq news agency, nearly four hours after the hostage crisis unfolded, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence group, which monitors jihadi activity online.
Amaq also claimed that 20 people had been killed in the attack.
At least nine terrorists shouting "Allahu Akbar" barged into the Holey Artisan Bakery, frequented by diplomats and expatriates, and opened indiscriminate fire at around 9:20 PM (local time) yesterday. Army chief Gen Shafiul Huq was overseeing the commando operation.
Prior to beginning of the operation, armoured vehicles were brought in and special troops from different law enforcement agencies were seen taking position around the eatery.
Security officials had issued instructions to people in the neighbourhood to stay indoors.
Local media reports, meanwhile, said that the father of a teenage Indian girl, who was believed to be among the hostages, urged authorities to expedite negotiations for her safe release.
Ambulances were seen coming out of the Gulshan Road, the scene of the hostage crisis, carrying wounded hostages.
The number of rescued people was 13, witnesses and media reports said.
A police officer, on condition of anonymity, said two of the rescued persons were foreigners. The military-led rescue operation was launched jointly by a navy commando squad, paramilitary BGB, elite anti-crime RAB along with special police units.
Military jeeps were seen making their ways towards the Spanish restaurant.
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but according to CNN, senior US officials believe that the attack has been probably carried out by al-Qaeda in the Indian Sub-continent, which was declared as a terrorist organisation by the US only a day earlier.
Five of the hostages were said to be Japanese, according to a driver who dropped them at the restaurant. Italian ambassador to Bangladesh, Mario Palmer, said seven of his countrymen are being held captive. However, the total number of hostages still remains uncertain.
According to a local news channel, one of the persons being held captive, messaged his relative that the terrorists are using them as human shields.
A hostage was also seen tied up in a chair on the balcony of the restaurant.
The deceased policemen have been identified as officer in-charge of nearby Banani police station, Salahuddin Ahmed and Additional Commissioner of Police Rabiul, identified only by his first name.
An Argentine national and a local escaped after taking refuge in a nearby house when the gunmen entered the restaurant.
Police said they have detained two employees of the eatery for questioning.
A Bangladeshi man, managed to call up his relative and told him to ask police not to fire, as he feared the gunmen would kill them all. He said there were around 20 foreigners present at the restaurant during the attack, according to media reports.
A kitchen staff of the restaurant, who managed to escape, said several armed men entered the restaurant and took the chief chef hostage.
"They set off several crude bombs triggering panic," he added.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in touch with security agencies over the incident. The Muslim-majority Bangladesh has been fighting a wave of deadly attacks on religious minorities and secular bloggers by suspected Islamist militants.
Earlier yesterday, a Hindu priest and a Buddhist leader were brutally hacked to death by machete-wielding Islamic State militants while another Hindu man survived a bid on his life.