Bangladeshi police have stormed a restaurant in Dhaka trying to free 20 hostages including several foreigners – trapped inside after gunmen attacked it on Friday night.
A military chief confirmed that commandos had gone in and intense gunfighting was going on.
Earlier gunmen stormed a cafe in Gulshan, the diplomatic quarter of the Bangladeshi capital.
Men wielding guns, bombs and swords are said to have burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery café at around 8.45pm local time (4.45pm CET). An unconfirmed number of people have been taken hostage.
Amaq, the news agency of the self-proclaimed Islamic State – or ISIL – reports the militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack. It says more than 20 people have been killed.
Chief of the special police force Benjir Ahmed said the assailants had thrown bombs at police officers.
Reports later said two policeman were killed and more than two dozen injured in gunfire that broke out as the force surrounded the building.
Rabiul Islam, the Assistant Commissioner of the Police Detective Branch, succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital, police sources have confirmed.
Around eight to nine gunmen are believed to be involved in the siege.
Amid the standoff that followed, Chief Ahmed told the press police were attempting to ensure the hostages’ safety in a peaceful manner.
The restaurant is popular with foreigners. Embassies, NGOs and the UN are all based in the area and a number of foreign nationals are reported to be among those taken hostage.
The Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion was sent to the site, to plan an operation to try to rescue the hostages. The Chief of the unit was quoted as saying the perpetrators were “arms-carrying misguided youths.”
‘Stay away from the neighbourhood’
Spanish, US and Canadian authorities warned citizens to avoid the Gulshan neighbourhood.
Spokesman for the US State Department, John Kirby, said that while he was unable to confirm whether private US citizens were caught up in a “hostage situation,” all state staff were accounted for, so far.
“We’re certainly aware of reports of what appears to be a hostage situation in the Gulshan neighbourhood of Dhaka in Bangladesh. We’re also aware that local security forces are on the scene and responding. Our embassy in Dhaka is currently conducting accountability. I can tell you, as of now, just before I came out here, that they accounted for 100 percent of American citizens working under the chief of mission authority,” he told press.
“The situation is ongoing. It’s obviously too early for us to say who is involved, the motivation, any of that stuff. It’s all still unfolding right now and we will obviously update you.”