Attackers stormed a restaurant Friday night in Bangladesh's capital, taking about 40 people within the diplomatic enclave hostage and exchanging gunfire with police, killing four security personnel, officials said.
A team of seven or eight attackers entered the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka's Gulshan area around 9:20 p.m. local time (11:20 a.m. ET) and were holding customers and staff captive at gunpoint, Assistant Superintendent Fazle-e-Elahi told NBC News by phone from Dhaka.
"Suspects are extremist militants from an unidentified group," the security official said. "All are heavily armed and equipped. There are seven to eight militants engaging us."
Image: Bangladeshi security personnel stand guard near a restaurant that has reportedly been attacked by unidentified gunmen in Dhaka
Bangladeshi security personnel stand guard near a restaurant that has reportedly been attacked by unidentified gunmen in Dhaka, Bangladesh on July 1, 2016. STR / AP
He added that among the roughly 40 hostages, at least one appeared to be a Westerner.
"They are tactically sound," the official said of the attackers. "They are using grenades and weapons in tow."
The ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency reported that the group had claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the terror research firms Flashpoint Intelligence and Site Intelligence Group.
Sumon Reza, a kitchen staffer who escaped the attack, told reporters that the gunmen were armed with firearms and bombs as they entered the restaurant.
A huge contingent of security guards cordoned off the area around the establishment, trading gunfire with the attackers who set off bombs.
TV reports said the identities of the attackers were not immediately known.
Maimuna Ahmad, who lives near Holey Artisan, which is popular with foreigners, said she previously noticed the lack of heavy security there.
"There's a gate and guard, but you could walk in without any hindrance if you wanted to," she told MSNBC.
Several foreigners are believed to be among the hostages inside the restaurant. It's unclear how many people were being held.
"Some derailed youths have entered the restaurant and launched the attack," said Benazir Ahmed, director general of the elite anti-crime force Rapid Action Battalion or RAB. "We have talked to some of the people who fled the restaurant after the attack. We want to resolve this peacefully. We are trying to talk to the attackers, we want to listen to them about what they want."
U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed about the situation and will be receiving updates, a White House official said.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said all of the Americans under the diplomatic chief of mission in Dhaka are accounted for. Officials were still accounting for other American citizens who may have been in the area.
The State Department urged any U.S. citizens near the Gulshan area of Dhaka to "contact loved ones directly or use social media to alert them of your status."
The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka asked Americans in the area to shelter in place and monitor reports.
Reports of shooting and hostage situation in Gulshan 2, Dhaka. Please shelter in place and monitor news.
— U.S. Embassy Dhaka (@usembassydhaka) July 1, 2016
Security in Dhaka has been stepped up since last year following an ISIS-claimed attack during a Shiite Muslim holiday, when one person was killed and dozens of others were hurt.