A popular restaurant in the diplomatic area of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, is under attack by unidentified gunmen, who have also taken an unconfirmed number of hostages, reports have said.
Two police officials were killed and at least 24 people were injured, in the gun-battle between the attackers and police, the Dhaka Tribune reported
Some armed men – the numbers ranged from five to nine in different reports – entered O'kitchen restaurant, a sister concern of Holey Artisan Bakery at Road-79 in Gulshan 2, and opened gunfire around 9.20 pm (Dhaka time), according to local reports.
At least 20 civilians, mostly foreigners, are being held hostage inside the restaurant, the Dhaka Tribune reported.
The restaurant is popular with expatriates, diplomats and middle-class families, according to local reports.
Police and security forces have cordoned off the area and are trying to negotiate the hostages’s release.
Italian nationals are thought to be among the hostages, Reuters has reported, quoting officials in the Italian foreign ministry. The exact number of the Italians among the hostages could not be confirmed.
Update: Fresh reports indicate the number to be seven.
"Some derailed youths have entered the restaurant and launched the attack," the BBC quoted Benazir Ahmed, chief of Bangladesh's elite police force, as saying.
The Dhaka Tribune had earlier called it “an apparent terrorist attack”.
The ISIS, the so-called Islamic State, has claimed it carried out the attack. A statement on the group's self-styled news agency Amaq said militants had attacked a restaurant "frequented by foreigners".
The Islamist militant group said 24 people had been killed, Reuters reported. Police have, however, so far confirmed the deaths of only two policemen.
The ISIS claim was questioned by many, who pointed to old reports that said the outfit was "falsely claiming" a spate of killings in Bangladesh.
The United States State Department said it was too early to say who was involved or what the motivation of the attackers might be. It confirmed that all Americans working at the US mission in Dhaka had been accounted for.
Negotiations are on
"We want to resolve this peacefully," Ahmed was quoted by the BBC as saying. "We are trying to talk to the attackers... Our first priority is to save the lives of the people trapped inside."
A joint team of police, Rapid Action Battalion and Border Guard Bangladesh are deployed at the site along with Dhaka Metropolitan Police Bomb Disposal Unit and three ambulances, according to reports.
Contact has been established with hostage takers, the Dhaka Tribune reported at 3.23 am (local time), quoting a high level police official seeking anonymity, who also confirmed that there are nine gunmen inside the building.
Two restaurant staff, who escaped the siege earlier, have been taken into police custody, the Tribune said, quoting Independent TV.
Two foreigners – a chef of the restaurant and an in-house electrician of the restaurant – have been rescued from the adjacent building, the Tribune reported, quoting police officials.
Local television channels have been asked to stop telecasting live images of the situation at the restaurant and adjoining areas.
This is a developing story and will be updated frequently as and when new information becomes available. For live updates, please follow the Dhaka Tribune