DHAKA – A Bangladeshi employee at the Dhaka cafe where 20 customers, including seven Japanese, were ruthlessly slain has said the Japanese were killed almost immediately.
In an exclusive interview in the capital, the man, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of his own life, said he was hiding in a cold room with a “young” Japanese man who was later shot while he was able to escape.
The man, who was working at the Holey Artisan Bakery in the upscale section of the city on July 1, said he had gone to get ingredients for a pasta dish from a chiller inside the restaurant when he heard the screech of “Allahu akbar!” and shots ring out.
Panic-stricken, he said he looked outside the cold room and saw men brandishing guns and swords, while customers who had moments earlier been enjoying their meals at the popular expat haunt were fleeing for cover.
During the commotion, one Japanese man approached him and begged to be let inside the freezer, which could not be locked from the inside.
Once hunkered down, the pair crouched to keep their bodies warm in the freezing temperature and took turns holding the door handle to prevent the assailants from coming in. They also did light exercises as they began to tire.
The pair had kept their voices low from about 8:30 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m. when the man said he heard one of the assailants say, “Go check to make sure there is no one left.”
One of the perpetrators approached the room, and the two frantically held onto the door handle to prevent his entry, but the door was eventually forced open after they were overpowered when the assailant enlisted help from his cohorts.
The man said when he began pleading for his life, the man in front of the door — later identified as Rohan Imtiaz, 20, who was the son of a senior Bangladeshi politician — told him, “Don’t worry. Just get out!”
As he crawled forward toward some stairs, he witnessed the bloody carnage near the table where the Japanese group had been dining. “I saw about four or five dead Japanese,” he said.
When he looked back to see where the Japanese man had gone, he saw that he was still inside the chiller with a gunman standing over him. He heard two shots but could not see what had happened because of a wall obstructing his view.
“He was young. I asked him his name when we were inside the freezer but I don’t remember what it was now,” the man said.
While he made his way through the restaurant he could see the bodies of the foreigners near tables and outside on the cafe terrace.
“An Indian woman who had been badly injured was moaning in agony but a perpetrator took a sword to her and killed her without mercy,” the man said.
He said the assailants who had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group wore T-shirts and jeans. “They were very calm, spoke very fluent English and Arabic, and were talking on their cell phones.”
Nibras Islam, 22, who apparently acted as the leader of the assailants, told Bangladeshi people there not to worry. Meer Saameh Mubasheer, 18, another of the seven suspects, frequently greeted anyone and everyone. “He was acting strange,” the man said.
The next morning after releasing local patrons who were hostages in the siege, Imtiaz recited a verse from the Quran and said, “We are also ready to die now.”
The man said he could see commandos and armored vehicles approaching as the assailants then took up their arms and exited the building. When they tried to escape to the second floor, the area was enveloped in the sound of fierce gunfire.
After a short period, the man was taken into protective custody by the authorities.
“I had only good impressions of the Japanese there. This is so unfortunate,” he said.