Bangladesh PM pledges
to quash
terrorism

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DHAKA — Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (pic) yesterday said she was determined to eradicate terrorism in Bangladesh after security forces stormed a cafe where Islamist extremists had taken diners hostage.

“It was an extremely heinous act. What kind of Muslims are these? They don’t have any religion,” she said in a televised speech.

“People must resist these terrorists. My government is determined to root out terrorism and militancy.”

Security forces ended a 10-hour siege in Dhaka yesterday and shot dead six of the hostage-takers who had held hostages through the night. Twenty hostages, mostly Italians and Japanese, were also killed during the breach.

Police said at least 13 hostages, including three foreigners, had been rescued after commandos took control of the cafe in the upmarket Gulshan district.

Two police officers were also killed at the start of the siege as they battled the hostage-takers, who were heavily armed with explosives.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which follows a series of gruesome killings of religious minorities, foreigners and liberal activists in the mainly Muslim nation.

Earlier, unidentified attackers stabbed and critically wounded a Hindu priest in southwest Bangladesh while a Hindu temple worker was hacked to death on Friday in an attack by suspected Islamist militants.

“The operation is over. The situation is completely under control,” army spokesman Col Rashidul Hasan said.

Tuhin Mohammad Masud, a commander of the elite Rapid Action Battalion, which led the storming operation, said the cafe had been cleared but added that some of the hostage-takers might still be at large.

“We gunned down six of the terrorists” Masud told India’s Times Now television channel.

“The main area that they have been occupying has been cleared. Maybe some of them have escaped into a larger area.”

There was no official word on the number of hostages who were killed or wounded but Masud said “… obviously, there have been casualties”.

Eight hostages, including a foreigner, were rescued in the first few minutes of the operation, a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

TV footage showed ambulances rushing some of those who had been rescued to a military hospital.

Sri Lanka’s government said two of its nationals were among the hostages rescued and were safe and unharmed.

Police said the gunmen burst into the restaurant shouting as people were having dinner at around 9.20pm and set off explosives.

Italy’s ambassador Mario Palma told Italian state television seven Italians were among the hostages. Japan said some of its nationals may also have been among the captives.

Some diners managed to escape, including an Argentine chef and a Bangladeshi man who took refuge in an adjacent building.

Some managed to speak to relatives by phone, reporting there were up to 40 people trapped inside, around half of them foreigners.

Another had told relatives he feared they would be killed if police tried to storm the restaurant to end the siege.

The restaurant’s supervisor Sumon Reza, who escaped by jumping from the roof, told a local newspaper there were 20 foreigners being held hostage.

“I was on the roof. The whole building was shaking when they set off explosives,” he said.

Deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Sheikh Nazmul Alam said: “Two police officers, including the head of Banani police station were killed. It appeared they were hit by bullets and splinters from a grenade.”

“Up to 20 police officers were injured.”

Authorities under pressure to act on the spate of killings launched a nationwide crackdown last month on local Islamic extremist groups, arresting more than 11,000 people.

But many rights groups allege the arrests were arbitrary or were a way to silence political opponents of the government.
— AFP