Diego Rossini was working alone in the kitchen at the Holey Artisan Bakery Friday night when seven men burst through the front door.
They “started shooting right away,” Rossini said, so he ran up the kitchen stairs to the roof, where as many as 10 other people had also fled when the shooting began.
Shumon Reza, another cafe employee, said the attackers barreled in as diners were readying for their evening meal.
“They were shooting in the air,” Reza told Boishakhi TV. “They didn’t shoot or hit anybody. Just to create fear.”
Dhaka attack: Full coverage
Customers dove under tables and chairs, Reza said, but staffers, who were more familiar with the restaurant, escaped to the roof or to “other safe spots.”
They thought they’d found shelter for a moment, but then they heard explosions – one after another.
“We thought it wasn’t safe anymore and jumped from the roof,” Reza said.
Rossini injured his spine when he jumped to the roof of a neighboring building. Police found him there when they were looking for the best spot to breach the cafe, and he was taken to the hospital.
In the end, 20 hostages in the cafe were found dead, and two police officers had been killed in an earlier gun battle with the terrorists.
The brazen attack stunned Bangladesh, not only because of the slaughter of the hostages, but because of where and when it happened.
Not in a bar or a club – which fundamentalists rail against as being un-Islamic – but in a bakery and cafe, just as patrons were breaking their fasts on a holy day during the holy month of Ramadan.
The Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka is tucked away in the affluent Gulshan neighborhood, a diplomatic enclave favored by expatriates. But locals, too, frequent the shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, which was viewed a relatively safe haven.
In his office nearby, Ataur Rahman said he heard a series of gunshots Friday night as people raced for cover.
Some of those who fled reported that the gunmen were shouting, “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” a phrase used in the Muslim call to prayer that has been appropriated by extremists to celebrate their violent attacks.
The standoff ended nearly 11 hours later, on Saturday morning, after commandos stormed the cafe, killing six attackers and capturing one. Thirteen hostages were rescued, authorities said.
The bodies of 20 hostages were found on the floor, mostly hacked and stabbed to death.
The attackers used guns, explosive devices and “a lot of sharp domestic weapons,” said Brig. Gen. Naeem Ashfaq Chowdhury of the Bangladesh army.
Authorities initially announced that the dead were all foreigners, but Rezaul Karim – whose son, daughter-in-law, 8-year-old grandson and 13-year-old granddaughter were rescued from the cafe – says Bangladeshis were killed too.
Karim, who lives in Dhaka, said he feels fortunate his own family wasn’t killed.
“I feel that I am very lucky … because some of the local people have been killed also,” he said.
Rossini noted that the body count could have been worse. He said there were almost as many staff as customers in the cafe – about 50 potential victims – when the attack began.
“Luckily, today was a slow day,” Rossini, an Argentinian, told CNN en Español.