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20 Hostages And 6 Gunmen Killed After Bangladesh Attack


Twenty people have reported to have died after an hours-long standoff and terror attack at a restaurant in the capital of Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi military said six gunmen were killed in a raid Saturday morning, local time. One was arrested. The so-called Islamic State has claimed credit for the attack. U.S. officials have not independently authenticated that claim. Zain Al-Mahmood of The Wall Street Journal has been covering this story, and he joins us by Skype. Thanks very much for being with us.

ZAIN AL-MAHMOOD: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Can you please tell us about what the scene has been like in this diplomatic quarter of Dhaka over the past day?

AL-MAHMOOD: Well, it's been a very strange and frankly frightening day for Bangladesh where although there have been attacks targeted against secular writers and religious minorities before, those have usually been targeting individuals. But this was something that's new to Bangladesh - an armed group storming a very popular cafe and taking hostages, killing as many as 20 people and two senior police officers. So you can imagine the terror.

And when we've been close to the scene, we've seen streets completely empty, stores shattered. People closed their windows, drawn their curtains. No one out and about. A very, very heavy police presence with armored carriers and, of course, the sound of sustained gunfire. So it's a very eerie and frightening atmosphere right now.

SIMON: Are there fears among Bangladeshis that this terror attack, which is - as you've noted, has been the first mass terror attack, as opposed to some of the individual attacks on religious minorities and gay rights activists, is the first of what might be a series to come?

AL-MAHMOOD: That's the worry. That's the concern. And the security analysts who have been following these terror attacks and journalists like myself have been fearing this for a while because these groups have gotten more and more sophisticated. And yesterday's attack shows that they have the training and the weapons to carry out attacks of this style in an area which is heavily guarded. There are police checkpoints on all sides, but these militants were able to get in with weapons and carry out this attack in a brazen manner. So it is a worry that this is just a sign of things to come.

SIMON: And how has the government responded?

AL-MAHMOOD: Well, Scott, the Bangladeshi government line out of Dhaka has very much been that Islamic State and al-Qaida don't have a presence in Bangladesh and that it's domestic political opposition making mischief. And there had been talk of an international conspiracy to destabilize Bangladesh, et cetera. But - so it remains to be seen whether the government will change its stance and admit that Islamic State does have a presence. And, of course, that influences policy and how it directs its counterterrorism measures.

SIMON: Zain Al-Mahmood of The Wall Street Journal, thanks very much for being with us.

AL-MAHMOOD: Thank you. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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