Over 20 foreign nationals were hacked to death on Friday with crude metal objects at a popular cafe in the diplomatic zone of Dhaka, Bangladesh. “Nine of the victims were Italian, seven were Japanese, one was from India, two were Bangladeshi and one was a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origins,” reports CNN. The gruesome attack took place just a few miles away from the U.S. embassy at the Holey Artisan Bakery, a place usually frequented by foreign diplomats and tourists.
According to witnesses, the hostage-takers quizzed the captives, asking them to recite verses from the Quran. Bangladeshi Muslim locals successfully passed the sick game. Others weren’t so lucky.
Bangladesh-based Daily Star first reported the shocking details:
Those who could recite a verse from the Quran were spared, others were tortured, said a rescued hostage of the Gulshan restaurant attack where at least two lawmen were killed.
“The others were tortured by the gunmen,” said Rezaul Karim, father of Hasnat Karim who was held hostage inside Holey Artisan Bakery in the diplomatic zone for over 10 hours...
“They (gunmen) did not behave rough with the Bangladesh nationals,” Reazul said quoting his victim son Hasnat. “Rather they provided night meals for all Bangladeshis.”
“The gunmen were doing a background check on religion by asking everyone to recite from the Quran. Those who could recite a verse or two were spared. The others were tortured.”
Fortunately, a handful of hostages were rescued by Bangladeshi commandos in a daring raid at dawn. The Bangladeshi military waited several hours to lay siege to the bakery, issuing a blackout against all media in the interim. Officials feared that live coverage of the hostage crisis would be exploited by the militants inside the bakery, jeopardizing the rescue operation. Ultimately, the military deployed over 100 elite commandos and heavy military vehicles to root out the hostage takers. Despite their massive power, Bangladeshi forces discovered a bloodbath inside the bakery: 20 macheted corpses strewn on the floor like ragged dolls placed by a sociopathic maniac.
ISIS eagerly claimed responsibility for the savage attack in an apparent coup against Al Qaeda. In the last few month, Al Qaeda’s local affiliate Ansarullah greenlighted a series of assassinations against secular bloggers, freethinking writers, and gay activists in a crusade to purge the country of anything that appears to undermine puritanical tenets of Islam. This weekend’s highly-publicized attack in Dhaka was ISIS’ way of deliberately invading Al-Qaeda’s stomping ground. The Islamic State has been competing against Al-Qaeda for jihadist recruits since the groups slit apart several years ago.
While Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her secular Bangladeshi government have long claimed that the country was immune to jihadist infiltration, the attack on Dhaka underscores what many Western agencies have argued all along: Bangladesh is a breeding ground for Islamic extremists.
“Yet the government has denied the presence of either Al Qaeda or ISIS on Bangladeshi soil; one of its ministers, speaking to me late last year, was more eager to blame his party’s primary political opposition, the Bangladesh National Party, and the B.N.P.’s proscribed Islamist ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami. Last month, under pressure to act, the government arrested more than eleven thousand people, including a hundred and forty-five suspected Islamic militants; police officials said that they were cracking down on every form of crime, from theft to assault, but the B.N.P. complained that the raids were a cover to detain its workers,” notes The New Yorker’s Samanth Subramanian. “By way of further complication, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the paranoid theory that the government’s security agencies had carried out some of the murders, to give itself an excuse to turn Bangladesh into more of a police state.”
The precarious security situation in Bangladesh will only get worse in the coming months as rival jihadist groups compete for more influence and standing in the predominantly Sunni state. Secular-oriented countries in the Mideast, like Bangladesh and Turkey, are antithetical to the aims of zealot Islamist groups hell-bent on establishing a Sharia-centric caliphate in territories formerly colonized by the Islamic armies of 8th and 9th century warlords.