The overnight hostage crisis at a café in Dhaka ended on Saturday morning after an hour-long operation by armed forces’ commandos.
The crisis begun around 8:45pm on Friday at the Holey Artisan Bakery and O Kitchen at Road No. 79 of Gulshan-2 when around men, armed with firearms and bombs, raided the cafe that is popular with foreigners.
With around 20-22 guests, including foreigners, trapped inside, police moved in soon. But they pulled back after two officers – DB’s Assistant Commissioner Robiul Karim and Banani police OC Salahuddin - were killed in the first exchange of fire.
After that, law enforcement agencies had sealed off the area.
After waiting through the night, following directives from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, armed forces joined RAB and police in the morning to launch the final assault.
Then they chalked out the raid, ‘Operation Thunderbolt’, with the other security agencies.
Around 7:40am, security forces stormed the cafe in the Gulshan diplomatic zone and several hostages were rescued minutes after the offencive began, a witness told bdnews24.com.
Heavy firing and explosions continued for at least an hour after the operation had begun to free the hostages.
A witness who saw the assault from an adjacent building said army men in two armoured personnel carriers (APCs) tore down the wall of the café and the commandos galloped into the cafe through the breach.
More than 1,000 rounds were fired and nearly 1000 explosions were reported in the 30 minutes of the raid.
A resident at a building, just 50 yards from the scene reported spotting snipers on the roof of another building, firing from their guns.
At a media call later in the afternoon, Bangladesh Army’s Brig Gen Nayeem Ashfaq Chowdhury said that ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ ended around 8:30am.
He said they had found 20 bodies of foreign citizens, but did not disclose their identities. He said all of them were murdered late Friday night using sharp weapons.
Chowdhury, director of military operations at the Bangladesh Army, said that 13 people, including a Japanese and two Sri Lankans, were rescued from the restaurant.
The commandos took less than 15 minutes to complete the operation. “Within 12 to 13 minutes our men were able to take out the terrorists and took total control,” he said.
Brig Chowdhury said that there were seven attackers, one of whom was captured alive, and the rest were killed during the assault.
Earlier, around 9pm, RAB Director General Benazir Ahmed was seen talking to security personnel outside the restaurant, which was heavily damaged.
Officials of different security agencies were seen moving around the lawn of the café. Fire-fighters were seen rushing to the spot with extinguishers and hosepipes, but no fire could be spotted.
A medical team was also seen rushing to the scene with stretchers.
After a while, a loud bang rocked the area, but the security personnel in the café were indifferent to it, suggesting these were controlled explosions of the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) recovered at the scene.
Around the same time, members of different forces who had taken position in different buildings in the area before and during the raid came out and were seen embracing each other.
Blood was seen in front of the gate of the café’s main building when security officials were leaving it. A police official was shot in that spot Friday night.
A little later, RAB media wing’s Assistant Director Mizanur Rahman confirmed bdnews24.com of the conclusion of the raid, saying: “The operation has ended.”
Army men, RAB personnel, members of the bomb disposal unit, staff of Holey Artisan Bakery and O Kitchen were also seen standing in the lawn of the café.
Around 9:40am, another loud bang was heard as the bomb disposal unit continued to explode the seized bombs in controlled environment.
After the raid ended, several youths, who appeared to be handcuffed, were seen lying in the garage of a high-rise building beside the café. But they could not be identified.
Since 8:15am, hostages, including women and children, were seen rushing out of the eatery one after another. They were taken to hospitals in ambulances right away.
After the operation, IGP AKM Shahidul Hoque said that 18 people had been rescued alive. But he left without answering how many died.
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said at a programme later in the morning that 13 hostages had been rescued alive.
She added that one of the seven gunmen was captured alive and the rest were killed during the raid.
Calling the incident a ‘militant attack’, Hasina said, “We have rescued 13 people alive, but some have been killed. Some of the injured have been admitted to CMH (Combined Military Hospital).”