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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Coverage of Bangladesh Hostage Crisis. Aired 10:10-11p ET
Aired July 1, 2016 - 22:10 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JONATHAN MANN, POLITICAL MAN SHOW HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world to our ongoing coverage.
The siege in Dhaka appears to have come to an end and to a bloody end. We're receiving word as we get these first morning images of military vehicles moving through the Bangladeshi capital.
We're getting the first word that police have stormed the cafe where some 20 people were believed held hostage by gunmen who have been claimed by ISIS.
The first official word coming by the Reuters News Agency which is now quoting Mizanur Rahman Bhuiyan, a deputy director of the Rapid Action Battalion Force is saying "Our commandos have stormed into the restaurant, intense gun fighting on."
No word on the fate of the hostages believed to be some 20 people including foreigners. No word on exactly who the authorities are fighting against.
It's believe that six to eight gunmen stormed the cafe last night, Friday night in Dhaka as people were gathering to break their Ramadan fast, on the festive last Friday of the Muslim holy month. Instead, what ensued was a hostage taking.
Two police officers are known to have been killed. Forty people were wounded and now these first images of an operation that's underway. The Rapid Action Battalion confirming to the Reuters News Agency that there's an intense gun fight as commandos have stormed the restaurant.
No images from the scene. Bangladeshi authorities have been exceptionally careful and asked journalists not to broadcast live images. They've been very careful about sharing details. Their worry obviously is that information and imagery would help the hostage takers inside.
And so, we're working with fewer details than we'd like assembling the story as best we can from the fragments we have. But once again, ISIS has claims responsibility for this hostage taking, a hostage taking that now has turned into what's being described as an intense gun fight.
According to the Reuters News Agency, as Bangladeshi forces storm the Holey Artisan bakery cafe, a popular spot for westerners in an affluent corner of Dhaka, part of a city that's crowded with embassies and hotels and the homes of the better-off citizens of that sprawling city.
Well, that cafe is now apparently a battleground.
Let's get more from Rodger Shanahan, he is associate professor at Australian National University joining us now. We know so little but we know that the authorities are trying to fight their way into a small building with a lot of innocent people in it. How tough is this going to be to carry off?
[22:15:04] RODGER SHANAHAN, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR: Well, certainly they're going to have to be working off fairly limited information, but in terms of the terrorists themselves and what kind of capabilities they have and locations of their hostages, who's alive and who's no longer alive.
So, any kind of assaulting to a very tight space like this restaurant/cafe is going to be is fraught with danger.
MANN: It has been suggested and you're seeming to add to the consensus that this is really going to be very, very difficult and that the initiative, really the advantage is entirely to the hostage takers, who have, after all, an easy opportunity to retaliate against their innocent captives.
SHANAHAN: Yes. Certainly. And if this is an Islamic state inspired or directed and this appears to be the case from what we know at the moment. The reality is that the strategic aim for these kind of missions is for the attackers to die in place, so the unfortunate reality is you can't really seize the objective until all of the attackers are going to be killed.
So, that makes things very, very difficult for any kind of rescue mission that's being undertaken at the moment.
MANN: Did they wait too long, do you think? I don't want to prejudge the outcome of this encounter, but it's suggested, at least by one U.S. security expert that the time to do this was immediately after the siege began without giving the hostage takers time to plan, time to rest, time to prepare.
SHANAHAN: Well, it's always very difficult to try and second guess, you know, the commander on the ground who has access to the most information, more information than people like that, myself or anybody far removed from the action he's going to have.
Obviously you want to try and ideally prosecute the target while the defenders have the least amount of advantage as possible, but as I said before, if the defenders are going to -- are willing to die in place and that's in some ways the whole aim of this mission, then the reality is that the outcome is going to be quite bloody.
And I don't know if there's that much to be gained by security forces going in before they're fully prepared to do or at least come out with some kind of coherent plan to give themselves some fighting chance of rescuing some of the hostages. MANN: Now as you're talking, we're looking once again at some of the
few images we have. But we're watching military armored vehicles move into position. Would they be relevant? Would they be helpful to a situation like this?
SHANAHAN: Well, again, without access to the vision I've seen, it's been reported on social media. But, you know, the armored vehicles may well just be the outer cordon or the inner cordon to stop people getting close to the site.
It might be -- they might be in positions to be cut off locations for terrorists who might want to or might try to exit the target locations. So, they have a purpose but they're not normally used in the assault for obvious reasons more as kind of cut off for or cordoned.
MANN: Now, the unit that's carrying out this attack is said to be the Rapid Action Battalion. And some of the earlier images we've seen, especially from Friday night and overnight in Dhaka, we saw them -- we saw their armored vest RAB prominently displayed.
Do you know anything about them, do they have any reputation whether for their training, or equipment or their ability to carry out an assault like this?
SHANAHAN: Well, you know, western agencies have tried to provide assistance to the Bangladeshi government and one of the ways in which they do this as well as providing training support and intelligence support.
They normally try and raise the professionalism of the premier counterterrorism strike force of the country that they're providing the assistance to, and in the case of the Bangladeshi government, it is the Rapid Action Battalion.
I don't think we know too much of it. They haven't been used in this kind of situation before, so it's breaking new ground largely for the Bangladeshi security forces. But in terms of training and equipment support, this is the organization within Bangladesh that western support has been focused on.
So, you know, it will be interesting to see what the after action report is about, the kind of procedures and preparation and actions that the battalion did in breaking the siege.
[22:20:08] MANN: A lot of lives are going to depend on just how good and lucky and effective they prove to be. Roger Shanahan, at Australian National University. Thanks so much for talking with us.
And once again, if you're just joining us, the siege of that Dhaka cafe appears, if not to be over, it's coming to a very violent end, what's described as an intense gun fight is now underway as Bangladeshi commandos move in against the gunmen who held an estimated 20 people hostage for more than 10 hours.
Details are very few and far between. These are some of the only images we have from Dhaka. The cafe itself is not accessible to our cameras. And Bangladeshi authorities have asked that CNN not broadcast live images of the assault that is underway.
But the word we have from at least one officer deputy director of the Rapid Action Battalion Force, "Our commandos have stormed into the restaurant, intense gun fighting on."
Let's get some perspective now from journalist Leone Lakhani who has been talking with us all through this. We know so little but clearly very tense moments and lives are at stake.
LEONE LAKHANI, JOURNALIST: Absolutely, Jonathan. So, this whole thing has started about, I'm looking at the time it's been about 12 hours or so. And there was a period in between there was complete silence from what we heard on the ground from witnesses.
So, that was really, really a worrying time period and now we're hearing about these gunshot. Just to tell you a little bit more about that Rapid Action Battalion or RAB, or as it's known in Bangladesh.
They are a group of -- it's an anti-crime unit, they are made of paramilitary groups, military groups, navy officers, that kind of thing, and their main task is to, you know, fight terrorism, to fight drug trafficking, that kind of thing. And that's what they've focused on.
They have been in the past criticized by human rights groups as well, for being heavy handed in many situations and blamed for numerous deaths.
But in this kind of situation, Bangladesh has never seen anything like this before. This is a completely unprecedented, organized gun attack, and so they would be using whatever they have, whichever units army as we've seen.
We've seen some military presence on the ground in those live pictures, whatever they have. And as we've seen now that RAB is also they're on the ground and taking part in this operation, Jonathan.
MANN: Are you surprised that we're not hearing more from the Bangladeshis about what's going on? That the people of Bangladesh haven't heard from their elected leaders? It seems they're playing their cards very close to the chest.
LAKHANI: They do. But it's not unusual in Bangladesh. They a bit more guarded about making comments especially something like this that has so much of an international spotlight on it in a sense. So, there are usually a lot of very, very guarded.
In terms of speaking to their people, perhaps a little bit surprising, but again, this is unprecedented. They'd be very careful about what they say. You know, we've been talking through the nights and the government's been very adamant that there are no, you know, ISIS or Al Qaeda cells locally in the country.
You know, they blame the recent attacks of the past couple of years on local groups. Having said that, they've also, as we've heard from Andrew a few minutes ago that they have this massive sweep in the past month in which they picked up some 14,000 people who they said was connected to some form of extremism.
So, there is an issue, they have to deal with it. You know, some people say that they, you know, they haven't addressed it, that they've been in denial, so they're going to be very careful about what they say. So, it's perhaps not a surprise they haven't said anything yet, and they will be guarded, Jonathan.
MANN: Well, let me ask you about a different surprise. How startled are the people of Dhaka going to be to see military vehicles coming through the streets of what is a very affluent, normally quiet neighborhood?
LAKHANI: In terms of the military and in terms of police on the street, there is -- they do have, you know, rallies and protests and political protests and that kind of thing in the city and across the country and they have had that, so there has been military presence when those kinds of things happen. So, that wouldn't necessarily be a surprise.
But what is a surprise is that they are hearing, you know, gunshot. They're hearing gun fire and they've never had anything like this, any kind of a gun attack like this before.
So, that's definitely rattled people on the ground when you speak to them. I don't think anyone really know what is to make of it. And also, because they haven't had anything like this, it's about how the authorities are dealing with it and whether they're really prepared for anything like this.
MANN: Leone Lakhani, speaking to us live from Washington. Thanks very much.
And if you are just joining us, the siege of the Holey Artisan bakery cafe is coming to a bloody end.
[22:25:04] And intense gun fight, according to authorities, is underway to try and free the approximately 20 hostages were believed held by six to eight gunmen said to be followers of ISIS, claimed at the very least by ISIS according wing of the extremist organization.
You are looking now at the first pictures we have of scene in daylight in Dhaka until now. We've been very careful, we're continued to be careful about withholding live pictures. But we have been showing you video taken hours ago while night had still fallen.
Now it's daylight and these are images we're showing you now, military vehicles moving through the streets.
I want to bring in Fayad Munaim, a witness to the original attack. Where are you now and what can you tell us about what's going on?
FAYAD MUNAIM, DHAKA TERROR ATTACK WITNESS: I'm now duck in -- right now my road is just covered with police vehicles. There are people putting back guns. I think this is something (Inaudible) it's a very high caliber gun.
They stormed the restaurant maybe 15, 20 minutes ago. There's a lot of continuous shooting back and forth. So, I've been seated for a long time.
MANN: Can you literally see what's going on, are you just hearing the shooting, can you describe literally see what's in your field of vision?
MUNAIM: My field is kind of blocking the restaurant, I have no sight to the restaurant but I'm also hearing everything. I think a lot of friction is going toward the restaurant. I'm seeing the army but I can't see the restaurant itself.
MANN: Are you seeing any ambulances leave the scene? We're still trying to understand the fate of the hostages. Is there any indication that people are coming out alive?
MUNAIM: It's so far. There hasn't been any indication of anyone coming out. There's an ambulance park towards the end of road but it's been there all morning. So, it's somewhat quite. There are few people armed SWAT officers have been on the road but no one is really moving anymore.
MANN: They say it's suddenly gone quiet. How long was the gun fire, how intense, and how long has it been since it ended?
MUNAIM: The gunfire -- the intense gunfire I would say sustained for 10 minutes. I think for the last five or so minutes it's been completely silent.
MANN: And no one appears to be leaving the scene?
MUNAIM: No one as far as I can tell.
MANN: Are you hearing sirens? Are you hearing any emergency announcements? Any loud speakers?
MUNAIM: Nothing. There was a group of people, maybe five minutes ago, but the cops yelled at them and moved them off.
MANN: Are there any police near your building? I'm just curious about what they're telling civilians who might be curious enough to come out and look?
MUNAIM: There are quite a few civilians on the road. And there are -- there is police here. I saw a couple people walk back from the team with their really high caliber rifle and they disassembled it and put it back in.
MANN: It's a mystery then what exactly has happened. But whatever has happened apparently seems to have paused or ended.
MUNAIM: It sounds like whatever happened is over, but we have no idea what the end result is.
MANN: We have no idea what the end result is. Once again, if you're just joining us, we're speaking to, well, someone we loosely described as a witness who did not have direct line of sight vision, but who heard what is described as an intense gun fight and heard the gunfire.
He described it as intense as well, going on for 10 minutes' time, it stopped five minutes ago. There are no sirens, there are no loud speakers, there are no emergency announcements and it seems bizarre, but you're describing a situation that suddenly turned very, very quiet and calm. Do I have that right?
MANN: Now, it's Saturday on Ramadan, a day of Ramadan, so I can't imagine there would be intense activity in the streets. But is there a normal activity, I mean, are people just using their cars and sauntering around?
MUNAIM: No, the activity -- the city's been -- usually on Saturdays there's not much activity to begin with, but there's not a single like -- like this city can think of -- this area in general is completely shut down. It's like a ghost town right now.
MANN: How many police? How many soldiers are you seeing around you?
MUNAIM: Right now I see three SWAT soldiers and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight -- eight cars parked on my road and an ambulance, eight cars and an ambulance and two cops.
[22:30:01] MANN: But from the sound of it, nothing that suggests urgency or emergency or particular activity.
MUNAIM: No. But about five minutes ago, there's two cops came back and put their guns away. But there's no urgency. There are people, actually they are just like, I can see one cop not really doing anything.
MANN: OK, Fayad Munaim, I'm scratching my head quite literally about what you're telling us, but we are extremely grateful, extremely grateful for the information you've been able to share. We may check back with you shortly. We're going to go now to CNN's Andrew Stevens reporting for us from Hong Kong. Andrew, what are you learning?
ANDREW STEVENS, CNN ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR: Well, I'm learning to another eyewitnesses just reported we've got here at CNN, Jonathan, that one injured person has been taken out of that restaurant. That's all can I tell you. I don't know whether they have been put in an ambulance and sent off, but one injured person has been taken out.
And also, Reuters has been reporting that up to a hundred commandos, that Bangladesh commandos were involved in the storming of the restaurant. Listening to that eyewitness, there was heavy gunfire for perhaps 10, 15 minutes involving literally dozens of commandos, maybe up to a hundred. What we know at this stage is still somewhat supposition. We think
that there are between six and eight hostage takers inside that restaurant and perhaps 20 hostages, both Bangladeshi and foreigners.
As we've been saying this is a very populous spot with the younger people in Bangladesh -- in Dhaka as well as the ex-pat community. It's in the diplomatic enclave of Dhaka. So, there is sort of -- it was seen as an area which people would go to, a very European feel about it, had a garden out in the front. So, it did, it was attractive to many expatriate workers working in the capital as well.
But as far as getting new information, Jonathan, it's very, very thin. There has been a media blackout as we've been reporting since pretty much this siege started and now there has been what appears to be a bloody end to the siege.
Dozens of commandos involved. Bangladesh in commandos involved. It has been quiet there for 10, 15 minutes. Now the actual first reports of gunfire according to our sources happened a little more than the first reports of gunfire, a little more than half an hour ago.
So, at this stage we still don't know has anyone survived inside that cafe, what casualties are. Now remember -- excuse me, that the attackers were armed with both sophisticated automatic weapons, again, those are the reports we're hearing, but also what's been described as crude explosive devices.
And these were used against the police in the initial gunfight during which two police officers died, another 40 people or so were injured, some by shrapnel from these devices, which were described as crude explosive devices.
But that was also -- those were also used with much more sophisticated weaponry by the hostage takers. So, Jonathan, at this stage that's all we can say at the moment.
Dozens of commandos involved, the siege has been broken, we don't know the end result. We don't know if there's been any survivors. There is reports that one injured person has been taken out. We don't obviously know the nationality of that person. We don't, at this stage, we can't at this stage confirm the nationalities of anybody inside that building.
The U.S. State Department said none of its official staff members working in Dhaka were in the risk at that time. But that's the only thing we've really heard about from any of the embassies or any of the State Departments around the world about citizens from other countries and whether there were concerns the citizens from other countries might have been in the Holey Artisan restaurant at the time, Jonathan.
MANN: Andrew, we've been watching this together and what from -- what few details we have from what fragmentary video we've been able to see, what seems clear is that Bangladeshi authorities used what advantages they could massively outnumbering, outgunning the hostage takers inside that restaurant. Bringing, as we were told, as you were reporting, a hundred commandos to the task to face six or eight gunmen inside. Bringing as well heavy military vehicles into the fight not clear that they would have been relevant or particularly helpful.
But once again, the Bangladeshi authorities doing their best to use what advantage they could, more men, more equipment. And we're still waiting to hear about the firepower.
What is intriguing is the sudden silence at the scene and the lack of any traffic from the scene, as if nobody needed to hurry away for medical attention or for any other reason. A near news blackout has been imposed.
And we're sharing with you what information and what video we have. But what has been startling from the outset, Andrew, is really how little we're hearing from the Bangladeshis.
[22:35:04] STEVENS: Yes, absolutely. And to your point, that there has been no report or signs of activity of ambulances that are rushing to or from that scene. That suggests that it has been a grim outcome here, Jonathan.
But again, we can't say at this stage. Remember, too, that this is an unprecedented situation in Bangladesh. They have not seen a hostage taking on this scale with this intensity. There have been attacks before and there have been many, many high profile attacks. But there have been attacks on individuals carried out in a much crude fashion.
Individuals hacked to death and these people, the common thread is that they are either that they are secular bloggers, perhaps critical of Islam or extreme, extreme Islamism. They've also been targeted the gay community and religious minorities.
But these have been individual attacks. This was something completely different on a completely different scale confronting the Bangladesh security forces.
As you say, it looks, it appears that they entered with overwhelming numbers, a hundred or so commandos is the reports we're getting and compared with hostage takers between six and eight.
But those hostage takers as we've been hearing from security experts, it appears that those hostage takers have no intention of leaving that restaurant alive.
ISIS has already claimed responsibility, as we know, Jonathan. There is suspicion from various security forces inside the U.A. as to whether it is actually an ISIS operation or whether it's an Al Qaeda operation.
At this stage it's something of a moot point. It is a terrorist attack and it has encompassed 20 people, 20 hostage takers, 20 innocents in that restaurant, both Bangladeshi and expatriate foreign workers as well. We don't know who was in there at the time. We are trying to work to confirm that. But it is so difficult as you
point out because there has been a media blackout, which is not uncommon to have these sort of media blackouts when the situation is live to give as little information as possible to the hostage takers, to the attackers who are inside and listening and watching all forms of communication to see what's happening in the outside world.
So, perhaps not surprising we don't know at the moment, Jonathan. But we're still not hearing any updates at the moment as to -- as to how many people may have survived those attacks and the conclusion to the hostage taking. We'll keep you posted at this stage, Jonathan, but I can't add any more information at the moment.
MANN: OK. Andrew Stevens watching the situation unfold. And once again, we try to put together what fragmentary details we have.
A witness telling CNN as Andrew was reporting that at least one injured person was removed from the scene in an ambulance, but we are hearing from the people we're talking to that the sound of gunfire has ended rather abruptly.
The Reuters news agency reporting that one foreigner, they are describing as probably Japanese escaped from the restaurant in the course of the operation to free the hostages. That's an unconfirmed report coming to us from the normally, a reputable Reuters News Agency. I pass it on with that provisory, we are still trying to work to confirm it.
Let's go back to Fayad Munaim, witness to the attack who has been hearing the aftermath. Any more indications from what you can see or what you can hear about what's going on?
MUNAIM: Actually, you know, the situation hasn't change at all since the last time I talk to you. It still just completely quiet. No one is coming out or moving around. I don't know what's going on. So, I don't know if the ambulance you mentioned went the other way, but I didn't hear anything noise or anything. And, yes, it's just completely quiet.
MANN: Now I'm curious about what you did, what your neighbors have done since the beginning of the siege. I imagine people had to be pretty nervous, but I suspect a lot of people simply went to bed and woke up this morning waiting to see what had happened.
MUNAIM: Well, in fact, I actually asleep, eventually I got woken up and within five minutes I started hearing the gunfire. A lot of people actually went up to the street -- stay there. In fact, the cops pushed everyone back. I can see everything from the vantage point of my balcony so I didn't go downstairs.
MANN: But still no indication from what you can see or hear about what has happened except it seems to be over. I'm just wondering, have you had a television on today? Have you had a radio on today? Have you heard any news from the authorities?
MUNAIM: Nothing. In terms of -- I don't think there is any news to be had because there's no reporters to tell us anything that's going on. It's only cops there right now.
[22:40:04] So, and the only indication that I know that it's over is the gunfire stopped.
MANN: And people are feeling confident enough to go out on the street again, although I guess they can't get very far, most of the roads have been blocked off?
MUNAIM: They can't go very far. Yes, exactly. You can only go to the end of my road. But you can't go any further than that.
MANN: It's a strange kind of suspense, isn't it?
MUNAIM: It is. It's a little distressing because you don't know -- it took a long time and doesn't really good.
MANN: Did you hear the gunfire from the original attack, the original assault on the building and the encounter with police? And are you in a position to compare what heard...
MUNAIM: I did.
MANN: ... on Friday night to what you've heard this morning?
MUNAIM: Yes. The original attack, I only heard about three shots. And I think when I saw the interview from the person who ran out, those three shots were warning shots which were fired in the air. So that's the initial three shots, which I heard.
And then I heard an explosion, which was actually the hand grenade (Inaudible). And today was more sustained. Yesterday was a little more sparse, you heard it three times and that was it. And today it was just like 10, 15 minutes of straight gunfire. So, it seems like a straight shoot-out.
MANN: But no ambulances and no sirens and no noise other than the sound of the gunfire?
MANN: Fayad Munaim, you've been incredibly generous with your time. I'm sorry?
MUNAIM: There are few loud bangs which might not be a gunfire, but, yes, that's pretty much all I heard.
MANN: OK. We're very grateful. You've been incredibly generous with your time. You are ears on the ground quite literally and we are very, very grateful. We may be back with you soon.
Let's bring Saijan Gohel now, he's international security director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation, joining us now from Tokyo. We don't know what to make of this, except whatever happened appears to be over. Can you even begin to guess at what's happened? SAIJAN GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION INTERNATIONAL SECURITY DIRECTOR:
Well, Jonathan, this is another incident in Bangladesh but on a much higher scale to the acts of terrorism we've seen previously. It's in the past it's been targeted assassinations of religious minorities, hacking to death of bloggers who have been calling for the prosecution of Islamic party, Jabhat al-Islamiyya.
This is not entirely unexpected. Whether this is an Al Qaeda affiliate group or an ISIS-affiliated group, there have been warning signs for a while that terrorists in Bangladesh were going to up the scale of the attacks such as targeting foreigners.
And unfortunately, now it seems to have kind of transpired that way. And it will be interesting to see how the Bangladeshi government reacts to this. Because in the past they have been pretty much in a state of denial that there has been terrorism in the country.
MANN: These terrorists seem to have had every advantage. They have the advantage of surprise, they have the advantage of the hostages they held. They had the advantage one may presume that they were willing to die.
At a time like this, does the government have any cards to play? Do the authorities have any advantage in trying to end this peacefully and without casualties?
GOHEL: All hostage siege attacks unfortunately seem to end very badly. I'm often reminded of the other incidents that have taken place over the last couple of years, Man Haron Monis who took people hostage at a cafe in Sydney. He randomly declared allegiance to ISIS. There were negotiations but they ultimately failed when he started shooting some of the hostages. The police had to storm in.
There would be sometimes more larger attacks such as the Aries siege incidental in Mumbai. Again, whether negotiations took but they failed. This is a much common tactic now the terrorists are using because they know that they hold the agenda, as you mentioned.
It's very much a catch up for the authorities. They can't do anything. They can't preempted because it could actually create much atrocities. It's a very difficult situation. They obviously had done the reconnaissance, the planning, they targeted foreigners, they knew where to go. This cafe was very popular with foreigners, businessmen, diplomats.
MANN: So, is it your early expectation that these were figures not inspire by ISIS, they were actually trained by ISIS, these were not self-appointed Jihadists mounting their own little tragic adventure?
GOHEL: Well, what's happening in Bangladesh is disturbing because effectively it's become a battleground for the ISIS-affiliated group and the Al Qaeda affiliated group.
[22:45:03] The ISIS-affiliated group is known as Jamatul Mujahideen Bangladesh and the Al Qaeda group is Ansarullah Bangla Team. Now the JMB, the ISIS- affiliated group has sworn allegiance to ISIS. Some of their fighters have actually gone to Syria to fight with them.
And keep in mind also, Jonathan, that Dabiq, the ISIS magazine few issues previously gave several cover stories about Bangladesh and how it's a priority for them and how they were going to carry out more attacks.
We still need to wait and see who was behind this, Amaq news agency that ISIS controlled claimed responsibility, they tend to do it very quickly in the aftermath of an attack like in Orlando or in France that police chief and his partner were killed.
But we also know Al Qaeda's presence in Bangladesh is also quite prevalent. So, it will be important to see who eventually does formally claim responsibility. But unfortunately, either way it's an active international terrorism and it has gained international notoriety as well.
MANN: Now you say that ISIS was making Bangladesh a priority. Why would that be?
GOHEL: ISIS has wanted to spread its tentacles beyond the confines of Iraq and Syria. They have affiliation in Egypt with really up Sinai, the group that brought down the Russian MetroJet plane. They have expanded also into places like Libya and even in Uzbekistan, the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan one of the original supporters of Al Qaeda defected, Boko Haram in Nigeria, too.
Bangladesh is seen as a strategic hub for ISIS or as Al Qaeda because it's given them the ability to operate without any -- facing any real action. The government in the past has been in denial about whether they have experienced any forms of terrorism.
So, for the terrorist groups, they've seen it as a convenient place to plot, plan and potentially to expand their activities. In the past we were talking about targeting assassinations. Now we're talking potentially for mass casualty atrocity.
MANN: Saijan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, thanks very much.
And if you're just joining us, the siege of the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe in Dhaka may now over. At last report after intense gunfire that went on for minutes, the scene is strangely silent. There's been no announcement from the government, no word from authorities on what has happened.
But we did hear earlier from a officer of the Rapid Action Battalion that the commandos of the RAB were going in. He said the gunfight was intense, and now the indications we have simply from what we are able to hear from the scene, what witnesses close to the scene are hearing is that the gun fight has ended.
There has been no burst of traffic from the scene, no ambulances blaring their sirens, no rush to get away. We do not know the results of the encounter. But for between 10 and 12 hours depending on how you do the math, six to eight gunmen held what are believed to be 20 foreigners captive.
Something has changed in a dramatic way because of intense gunfire and a government assault. We do not know the outcome.
Joining us now once again, Leone Lakhani, she has family in Dhaka, she knows the area, she knows the bakery. And I guess you have to be as mystified as the rest of us it doesn't seem like good news.
LEONE LAKHANI, JOURNALIST: Yes. It's really quite nerve racking, isn't it, Jonathan. So, you know, as you said, it's been about 12 hours or so since we heard the initial gunshot and then there was hours and hours in the middle of the night where there was just pin drop silence according to the witnesses on the ground who spoke to us. And I think that was even more nerve racking.
And then we've just heard about this gun fire and now, it's gone silent again. Now, it is a Saturday morning and it is Ramadan so mornings generally on the weekend would be quiet anyway, but on top of that, people have been asked to stay off the ground, stay off the streets, stay home, and I suspect that's what most people are doing.
But there are so many comments I've been getting messages from many friends and family who are obviously very shaken by what's going on and they all were messaging me about when they heard the gun fire.
But no one really knows what's going on and no one really wants to go out on the streets to find out exactly what's going on. But people are nearby and they've just said it's just an eerie silence at the moment on the street.
MANN: It seems whatever's happened, it is a terrible wake-up call to a country whose authorities had denied that they had a serious terror problem. There's no denying it now, is there?
LAKHANI: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the government's been saying that there are no ISIS, Al Qaeda, no foreign cells in Bangladesh. And they've blamed it on local groups or opposition groups, the types of attacks we've seen in the past couple of years.
[22:50:04] But they did launch a sweep over the past month where they've picked up like thousands of people blamed for extremism, but, you know, to keep saying that there's nothing there and these are local groups.
They're going to have to take this very seriously now because even after that sweep, we've just seen an organized gun attack in the city at a prominent cafe where people just walked in. So, they will have to look very hard at what's going on on the ground and take a very different type of strategy I suspect, Jonathan.
MANN: In the normal course of events, would you expect to learn what happened in a country like Bangladesh? Will there be a full and transparent account of who these people were, how they got their weapons, how they carried out this attack and how it was brought to an end? LAKHANI: There will definitely be many questions, the media will be
asking lots of questions and they do. The opposition groups will be doing it so there will be many questions asked. And because this is an international story in a sense, the whole world is watching, there will be many, many questions that they will have to answer.
Now in terms of how transparent they'll be, that we'll have to wait and see. This -- generally, the government and the country is not as open in terms of the international community and in terms of making announcements about things.
So, they'll be much more guarded before they make any many public comments, I suspect. But, you know, this is unprecedented, so there's going to be lots of questions that even the government will be asking itself, I suspect.
And so, we'll just have to wait and see. It's hard to predict how they're going to react to this but definitely there will be many, many questions asked.
MANN: How much do you think this is going to change life in Bangladesh or in Dhaka, a city where people have felt safe, where westerners have felt safe and where Islamic extremism seem really confined as serious as it was, as deadly as it was, seemed confined to fringe incidents against powerless minorities?
LAKHANI: Absolutely. I think it will definitely shake people up. So, it's a huge country, about 160 million people, about 90 percent of the population is Muslim, and it's largely a secular country. You know, you don't really hear about that many incidents except for, you know, these brutal murders is of course over the past couple of years, but they've been targeted incidents.
So, this one definitely have change things. So, after all those attacks over the past couple of years, they did step up security, especially around the embassies and those diplomatic areas and where lots of ex-pats live. But in terms of seeing an armed attack like this, I suspect they will definitely be stepping up security.
They'll be looking at that very carefully and people will be worried about where they go and what they do. This kind of cafe, you know, have many friends and family who live in the area who say, you know, it could have been anyone in there, they could be anyone you know who could be in there. So, people will be definitely be shaken and be much more careful about what they do and where they go.
MANN: Leone lakhani in Washington. Thanks very much.
And if you're just joining us, about 12 hours after the siege of a Dhaka cafe began, intense gunfire and now apparently nothing.
Let's go to CNN's Andrew Stevens who has been following developments. A bit of a mystery. Is this over?
STEVENS: Well, we can't say for sure at this stage, Jonathan. There may be hold-outs inside there. We just don't know. It's very difficult in these situations until there's an official all clear.
And even then I remember when I was in Mumbai at the 2008 attacks, that we were getting a lot of misleading information at that time from the authorities on the ground about when the actual siege had been lifted and when it was safe to call off the operation, which turned out to be wrong.
S,o we can't say for sure whether this is over. But certainly what we know at this stage is there is the -- one of the senior members of the Rapid Action Battalion Force telling Reuters that "Our commandos stormed the restaurant and intense gun fighting was going on," that gun fighting has now died away for the last 15 or 20 minutes or so.
We know that up to a hundred commandos were involved, overwhelming numbers. We believe there are between six and eight hostage takers inside the building, and Reuters is also reporting that an adviser to the Bangladesh Prime Minister said that the authorities there had tried to negotiate but obviously it failed with any moving forward at all with those negotiations, so took the option to storm the building.
[22:54:57] We don't know at this time -- at this stage how many survivors there are. There was an eyewitness report to CNN saying that they had seen an injured person leaving the restaurant and being carried out and taken to a waiting ambulance.
That's what we got from an eyewitness about 15 minutes ago or so. Since then, Jonathan, we've there's been absolutely nothing from any sources about whether this siege is actually over now.
As you say, nearly 12 hours ago, the gunman burst into this restaurant. It's a very popular restaurant with the expatriate community and the younger people who are living in Dhaka. They burst in shouting "allahu akbar," God is great.
There was then a gun battle involving the police. Two police, two senior police officers were killed. It's been reported, more than 40 people were injured. This is a busy -- we understand it was a busy time of evening, it was a busy place. We don't know whether those injuries are just restricted to the police or not.
But at this stage we know that the gunmen had assault weapons and grenades when those -- that's what we've been told, when those commandos storm the building, they would -- they most likely would have met resistance with assault weapons and grenades, Jonathan.
MANN: Andrew Stevens. Let's go back to Fayad Munaim. He has been incredibly helpful telling us what he has been able to learn. He's a resident near the cafe. What have you been seeing, what have you been hearing?
Fayad Munaim, you're live on CNN. Can you tell us what you've been hearing and seeing?
MUNAIM: I went downstairs and I talked to a few cops. So, what maybe we should share was, I don't know, it's all speculative but apparently they did pick up some of them and the point of cop that they did capture some, but it's all hearsay right now. I can't confirm that.
MANN: I'm sorry, you're breaking up. I understand you spoke to one police officer and you can't confirm what he's told you, but can you tell us again what the message was he passed on to you.
MUNAIM: He passed on that five of the gunmen have been killed. Two of them on are unaccounted for and one they captured.
MANN: OK. Five gunmen dead, two unaccounted for, one captured. So, did he seem to suggest as best we can tell from his information that this was over? He seems to have accounted for all of the eight gunmen who were believed to have been involved.
MUNAIM: (Inaudible) He was kind of laid back and smoking a cigarette. So, it seems like it was over.
MANN: Did he say anything about the captives, about the hostages?
MUNAIM: He said that he can't be sure, but he said some were saved. I met one of the hostages' brothers. And he said there were reports that his brother got saved.
MANN: I'm sorry, once again, I don't know if it's my ear piece or your phone connection. Can you repeat what you said. This is a crucial detail. I want to make sure we got it right. What has happened to the hostages?
MUNAIM: As far as we know some of them have been killed. But that's what people on the ground are saying.
MANN: Some have been killed. So, the fate of at least some of the hostages is unknown. Once again, just to be clear, you're not hearing this from an official source, you're hearing it from either police officer or relative of one of the hostages.
MANN: But the indications are mixed, some did not survive the encounter and some may have. We are extremely grateful. Details are very, very hard to come by. We're grateful for your work. I'm cautioning our viewers once again that none is confirmed.
You've made a good faith effort at the scene to find out as best you can, what you can and you've done yeoman's work for us. We're still waiting to hear from officials. And still I gather in your time down on the street are now, no burst of traffic, no sirens, no ambulances, not much activity at all?
MUNAIM: No movement. I went ahead to the road and there's like no movement, nothing is going on. So, I have a clear view of the area.
MANN: You did, when you were down there, you had a clear view of the area. What did you see?
MUNAIM: Just a lot of cops. It was kind of difficult to see beyond them. There was really no movement. There was no panic, no rushing. Nothing is going on.
MANN: Fayad Munaim, a resident of Dhaka, on the line with us with the best details we've had so far, still unconfirmed details. And we pass them on with some -- well, with some care.
[23:00:02] What he is telling us he has heard from a police officer is that five of the eight gunmen who are believed to have been involved in the siege of the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe, that five of them are dead.