DEVELOPING: Up to nine attackers shouting “Allahu Akbar” stormed a popular restaurant in Dacca, Bangladesh Friday, taking hostages and setting off bombs in a siege claimed by ISIS.
The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency said the attack on the restaurant was carried out by “Islamic State commandos,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activity.
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
More than eight hours after the hostage crisis began, a standoff had developed with little sign of any resolution.
The attackers “have not responded to authorities’ calls for negotiation,” said a member of the elite anti-crime force, Rapid Action Battalion, identifying himself as Lt. Col. Masood, during an interview with the Indian TV channel Times Now.
He said authorities were planning to launch a coordinated response at dawn, and that the security cordon would prevent any of the attackers from escaping. Authorities also ordered internet services to be blocked across the country, according to internet service provider Aamra.
— Department of State (@StateDept) July 1, 2016
Bangladesh TV stations reported that the attackers entered the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka’s Gulshan area around 9:20 p.m. Friday and were holding customers and staff hostage.
There was no immediate casualty count. However, police told the Associated Press two officers were killed by the attackers.
In addition, hospital authorities said another 25 officers and one civilian were being treated for injuries, including 10 people listed in critical condition, the Associated Press reported. The injuries include bullet wounds and broken bones, the hospital officials said.
The exact number of hostages also was not known. However, kitchen staffer Sumon Reza, who was among more than 10 people who managed to run to the rooftop and escape, said at least 35 people, including 20 foreigners, were still trapped inside the restaurant.
Italian state TV, quoting the Italian ambassador to Bangladesh, said seven Italians were among the hostages, Reuters reported.
The U.S. State Department said all Americans working at the U.S. mission in the area had been accounted for, according to Reuters.
“We have accounted for all Americans working for the chief of mission authority” in Dhaka, John Kirby, a State Department spokesman said. He called the situation “fluid.”
The reports say a huge contingent of security guards cordoned off the area and the restaurant as they traded gunfire with the attackers who set off explosions.
Jamuna Television reported, quoting a kitchen staff worker at the restaurant who escaped the attack, said that the gunmen chanted “Allahu Akbar” as they launched the attack.
Sumon Reza, the worker, told The Daily Star that several armed men entered the restaurant and took hostages.
“They blasted several crude bombs, causing wide-scale panic among everyone.”
Benazir Ahmed, director general of the elite anti-crime force Rapid Action Battalion or RAB, told reporters that security forces were working to save the lives of the people trapped inside. Several foreigners are believed to be among the hostages.
“Some derailed youths have entered the restaurant and launched the attack. 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,” Ahmed said.
“Some of our people have been injured. Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside.,” he said. He would not confirm the number of those trapped inside.
Earlier this month, authorities in the country rounded up about 1,600 criminal suspects, including a few dozen believed to be Islamist radicals, in a nationwide crackdown aimed at halting a wave of brutal attacks on minorities and activists.
Only 37 of them were suspected to be radical Islamist militants, according to authorities. Those include three charged with alleged membership in the banned militant outfit Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh.
The country saw a significant increase in terrorist attacks in 2015, as groups including ISIS and Al Qaeda targeted foreigners, religious minorities, police, secular bloggers and publishers. ISIS last November called for attacks in Bangladesh in an article in its online magazine, Dabiq.
The Associated Press contributed to this report