ISIS claims responsibility for hostage situation in Bangladesh

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Armed attackers are holding as many as 20 hostages at a cafe in a diplomatic zone of Bangladesh’s capital. A gunbattle with police left at least two senior police officers dead and 40 people were injured.

ISIS claimed responsibility, according to Amaq News Agency, an ISIS media branch.

As police exchanged fire with the gunmen, the attackers threw explosives at officers, a source at the scene said.

Here’s the latest:

• Gunmen are holding the hostages at Holey Artisan Bakery, a cafe popular with expats, cafe owner Sumon Reza told CNN.

• Reza said he managed to escape as six to eight gunmen entered the cafe.

• A police officer in charge of a nearby station was shot dead, Maruf Hasan of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said. A second officer later died from gunshot wounds, Detective Police Deputy Commissioner Sheikh Nazmul Alam tells CNN.

• Alam said 40 people were wounded, some by gunshots and others by shrapnel from explosive devices.

• “We are trying to resolve this issue peacefully,” police official Gen. Benzir Ahmed told reporters.

• Assailants were throwing explosives at police, a source at the scene said.

• Witness Sharma Hussain told CNN that her cousin has four friends who are in the restaurant. Hussain says the hostages’ relatives have come to the scene but have received no word from their family members. Hussain said she heard the gunshots from her apartment, about a five-minute walk from the restaurant.

• Police are trying to find out the demands of the gunmen holding customers, an officer said. The gunmen have not made any demands.

• Lori Ann Walsh Imdad, an American teacher living in Dhaka, said she lives one block from the restaurant and she heard gunshots. At first there was a burst of gunfire; after that it was sporadic. There has not been any gunfire since, she said.

• Farzana Azim, who lives nearby, says she heard explosions outside her home. “We heard the first bomb blast at 8:30 in the evening,” Azim said. At first she thought it was the sound of a plane, but a few minutes later another blast echoed through the neighborhood of Gulshan. Within a half hour, the gunshots started, she said.

“I never thought something like this could happen. It is next to a small hospital. This is family-friendly restaurant. Everyone loves to go there,” the 49-year-old told CNN.

• Hussain said the restaurant was popular among young people, who would have packed the restaurant about the time of attack as they broke their fast for the day.

• The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka warned of the situation on Twitter, advising people to shelter in place and noting that a hostage situation had been reported. Later, the embassy advised it had accounted for all of the American citizens working under the chief of the mission authority.

The attack comes on the same day a Hindu priest was hacked to death at his temple in Bangladesh’s southwestern district of Jhenaidah early Friday, police said.

That incident was the latest in a wave of murders across Bangladesh of secular bloggers, academics and religious minorities such as Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Sufi Muslims — despite a nationwide government crackdown and the arrest of more than 14,000 people.

The government launched an anti-militant drive across the Muslim-majority nation last month to stamp out the murders, but many of those detained are believed to be ordinary criminals and not Islamic extremists.

Home to almost 150 million Muslims, the country until recently had avoided the kind of radicalism plaguing others parts of the world. But that’s changing as the attacks seem designed to silence those to dare to criticize Islam.

One high-profile killing was the murder of Bangladeshi-American writer Avijit Roy in 2014 that occurred right outside Dhaka’s annual book fair. In April, a well-known LGBT activist and his friend were murdered.

The trend has sparked debate about the involvement of ISIS.

The group, which calls itself the Islamic State, has claimed a number of the attacks through its media affiliates, but the Bangladesh government has consistently denied any ISIS presence in the country. Other attacks have been claimed by local Islamist groups.

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