Seven Japanese among hostages killed during Dhaka siege: Suga

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Staff Writers

All the seven Japanese citizens who were previously unaccounted for after a 12-hour hostage crisis in Dhaka were found and pronounced dead at a local hospital, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo late Saturday night.

The siege, which broke out Friday night at a cafe in the capital’s diplomatic zone, left 20 hostages dead, including the seven Japanese and at least nine Italians. Most of the dead were people who were visiting or temporarily working in Bangladesh. In addition, six militants were killed by local security forces during the melee.

The seven Japanese comprised five men and two women, according to Suga. He declined to release their names, saying the government has not yet obtained the consent of the survivors’ families.

On Saturday, army troops and local police stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery cafe and overpowered the armed group, which killed two policemen Friday night and took about 35 people hostage.

The bodies of some of the victims were found in a pool of blood by security forces, according to The Associated Press. Reuters reported most of the victims died after being slashed with “sharp weapons.”

Bangladeshi authorities were reportedly still trying to identify the nationalities of all of the victims.

Around around 9:40 p.m. on Saturday, Japanese embassy officials finally identified the seven, all employees of Japanese consulting companies, Suga said.

On Saturday, 13 people were rescued, including three foreigners.

Tokyo-based consulting firm Almec Corp., confirming earlier media reports, told The Japan Times that one of the three foreign survivors was employee Tamaoki Watanabe.

Watanabe was eating a meal together with seven fellow Japanese at the cafe when the militants attacked.

The eight are employees of private consulting firms engaged in construction projects of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The Japanese man who survived the hostage crisis was shot, and was being treated at a hospital, deputy chief cabinet secretary Koichi Hagiuda said, adding that he is in stable condition.

The group of assailants who attacked the cafe, in Dhaka’s Gulshan area., were armed with guns and explosives. The gunmen ordered all Bangladeshis to stand up before they began killing foreigners, Reuters reported, quoting a source briefed during the police investigation.

“I strongly feel indignant because the brutal, inhuman terrorism took the lives of the innocent. This is a challenge against universal values shared by us and the international society,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters later Saturday.

The eight Japanese “all have made efforts to contribute to development of Bangladesh,” Abe said, adding he feels “heart-breaking grief.”

The targeted restaurant was often used by Japanese nationals living there and the area has relatively high security, according to an official in Tokyo.

Earlier the day, Abe spoke with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Sheikh Hasina, over the phone. She told Abe that 13 people had been rescued, including three foreigners, according to Hagiuda.

AP also reported that the Islamic State group’s Amaq News Agency said “Islamic State commandos” had carried out the attack, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi activity online. The claim could not be independently confirmed.

According to the Japanese Embassy, 906 Japanese were living in Bangladesh as of October 2015.

An expert said that Japanese could be targeted by terrorists due to their country’s military alliance with the United States.

“There is no specific threat against Japanese nationals in Bangladesh, but Japanese nationals are considered by IS and other groups as acceptable targets because of Japan’s close security relationship with the U.S.,” said Clive Williams, a terrorism expert at the Australian National University in Canberra.

Dhaka has claimed that the Islamic State group does not operate in the country. But Rohan Gunaratna, an expert on Asian terrorist networks at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said he believes IS-affiliated members do operate in Bangladesh and were responsible for the killing of a Japanese national in 2015.

In that incident, Kunio Hoshi, 65, was gunned down by masked attackers on a motorcycle in the northern district of Rangpur. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the killing in its Dabiq online magazine last year.

On Saturday, Japanese officials said that Tokyo plans to dispatch to Dhaka staffers from a government team in charge of gathering information on international terrorism.

The same unit was dispatched when a hostage crisis erupted in Algeria in 2013.

Thirty-nine hostages — including 10 Japanese — were killed during the siege on Islamist militants who had taken over a gas plant in the country.