DHAKA - Bangladesh security forces, including commandos, Saturday stormed a restaurant in the capital where dozens of people including foreigners were being held hostage by suspected Islamist militants, a security official said.
"The operation has began. Commandos have stormed the restaurant," the official said.
The attack started after Islamic State posted photos on the internet which it claimed were foreigners killed in the attack on the cafe.
Italian and Indian nationals are among the hostages, said a duty officer at the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion's (RAB) control room.
Islamic State posts said 24 people were killed. Bangladesh police have said two police officers were killed and at least 20 people wounded.
A photographer at the scene said he could hear a massive gunfight as security forces launched the operation more than 10 hours after the hostages were taken.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack and said 24 people were killed. Bangladesh police have said two police officers were killed and at least 20 people wounded. The militant group also posted photos of foreigners reportedly killed in the attack.
A group of between seven and eight attackers armed with guns and bombs stormed the restaurant, in the diplomatic district of Dakha at around 9.20pm Friday local time, (10.20pm Thailand time) and were holding customers and staff hostage, a senior police official said.
The attack took place at the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka's Gulshan district. The standoff was continuing as the sun rose in Dhaka Saturday, eight hours after the attack.
"No one is allowed to enter or leave," said Itrat Saeed, who has a house in the neighbourhood where the attack occurred. "My parents are blockaded in our house."
The IS-affiliated Amaq news agency reported that the IS had claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the terror research firms Flashpoint Intelligence and Site Intelligence Group.
The senior police official, Assistant Superintendent Fazle-e-Elahi, said most of the police casualties occurred when one hostage escaped. As officers rushed to help him a grenade was tossed at them from a balcony. The dead included the assistant police commissioner, he said.
He described the assailants as "heavily armed and equipped" and "tactically sound."
"The attackers are not identified. They were shouting 'Allah Akbar' when they entered the restaurant," Fazle-e-Elahi said.
A doctor at a nearby hospital said the facility had received 26 people wounded, most of them security personnel, six of whom were in critical condition.
Police had tried to negotiate to end the standoff without further deaths, Fazle-e-Elahi said.
"We are trying to communicate and begin a negotiation based on conditions," he said. "We want a peaceful settlement. But the conditions will have to be met."
Sumon Reza, a kitchen staffer who escaped the attack, told reporters that the gunmen were armed with firearms and bombs as they entered the restaurant.