Terrorists assaulted a cafe in Dhaka, Bangladesh earlier today, taking a number of hostages and exchanging gunfire with police. Initial casualty reports say that two policeman were killed and dozens more wounded. According to CNN and other media outlets, approximately 20 people are reportedly being held hostage inside the Holey Artisan Bakery.
[Update: The siege was ended after 11 hours and officials in Bangladesh say that 20 of the hostages were killed. Among the victims were tourists from the West, including Italians.]
The Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency quickly claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Islamic State commandos attack a restaurant frequented by foreigners in the city of Dhaka in Bangladesh,” the first “Breaking News” update from Amaq reads. A second Amaq update reads: “More than 20 individuals of varying nationalities killed after a commando attack on the Artisan restaurant in Dhaka city.”
“The commandos hold hostages inside the Artisan restaurant in Dhaka city, amid exchanges of gun fire with Bangladesh Police,” a third Amaq News update said.
None of Amaq’s reports thus far include any details that haven’t already been reported by the press. There is no indication in the reports that the Islamic State had foreknowledge of the plot, but that could quickly change.
The number of fighters loyal to the Islamic State in Bangladesh has steadily grown since last year. The so-called “caliphate’s” loyalists have claimed responsibility for a string of attacks, mainly assassinations and murders. If Amaq’s claims are accurate, then today’s crisis is the largest operation of its kind by the Islamic State’s followers in Bangladesh in history.
Today’s assault in Dhaka is similar to an operation that was carried out in Jakarta, Indonesia earlier this year. In January, several terrorists attacked a Starbucks cafe and also a nearby department store. According to Reuters, two victims were killed, one from Indonesia and the other a Canadian. All five gunmen also died during the strike.
Just as with today’s raid in Dhaka, the operation in Jakarta targeted an area frequented by tourists and Westerners. Indonesian authorities claimed that Bahrun Naim, an Islamic State jihadist based in Raqqa, was responsible for orchestrating the plot.
Officials in Bangladesh have often sought to downplay the growth of jihadism in their country. But both the Islamic State and al Qaeda have established a foothold. A wing of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has targeted accused “blasphemers” and others repeatedly. Ayman al Zawahiri announced the creation of AQIS in September 2014, saying that it was the result of two years of recruiting and negotiating with existing jihadi groups. It is possible that the Islamic State has grown inside Bangladesh by poaching from this extremist base. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s campaign has also grown worldwide by wooing local jihadist organizations into its camp.
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