On Saturday, Bangladesh security forces ended a 10-hour siege at an upscale eatery in Dhaka, where about 35 people had been held captive by heavily armed militants. Thirteen hostages were freed, six of the hostage takers were killed in the operation, and one was captured, officials said.
The Bangladesh army reported that 20 foreigners - a mix of Italian and Japanese nationals - had been found killed inside the cafe, many apparently stabbed and slashed.
Gunmen attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery in the Gulshan diplomatic area of Dhaka late on Friday. Indian television broadcaster Times Now reported that three of the 13 freed hostages were foreigners.
"It was a horrendous night," Diego Rossini, an Argentine chef who managed to escape through a terrace during the standoff, told Argentinian TV. "They had automatic weapons and bombs."
Seven Italian citizens were in the cafe when the attack started, including several working in Bangladesh in the garment industry, Italian media reported.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, and one of the militants had been captured and regretted all the hostages couldn't be saved. "We were able to rescue 13 people alive, and could not save a few lives," she said.
Koichi Hagiuda, a Japanese government spokesman, said seven Japanese nationals remained unaccounted for. An eighth had been rescued and was being treated for a gunshot wound, he added.
Sri Lanka's government announced that two of its nationals were among the hostages rescued and were safe and unharmed.
A police officer at the scene said that, when security forces tried to enter the premises at the beginning of the siege, they met a hail of bullets and grenades.
The "Islamic State" (IS) militant group claimed that 24 people had died, but Bangladesh police denied that, saying two police officers had been killed and at least 20 were wounded.
Bangladesh long denied presence of IS and al Qaeda
Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to the prime minister, said security forces had tried to negotiate a way out of the crisis.
Rizvi said the hostage crisis began when security guards in the diplomatic enclave noticed several gunmen outside a medical clinic. When the guards approached, the gunmen ran into the restaurant, which was packed with people waiting to be seated.
Bangladesh has long denied the presence of IS or al Qaeda militants on its territory. Bangladesh security officials say two local militant groups, Ansar-al-Islam and Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, are behind recent violent attacks in the country. The government's crackdown on Islamist militants has been criticized as mainly targeting opposition figures.
Two police, six militants killed and dozens hospitalized
Ansar has pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, while Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen claims to represent IS in the South Asian country.
"The bottom line is: Bangladesh has plenty of local, often unaffiliated, militants and radicals happy to stage attacks in ISIS's name," said security analyst Michael Kugelman, of the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, using a common acronym for IS.
The hostage crisis marked an escalation from a recent spate of killings claimed by Islamist militants on secular activists and religious minorities. The attacks could deal a major blow to Bangladesh's vital $25 billion (22.4 billion-euro) garment sector.
jar/tj (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)