International

Dhaka attack neighbourhood falls silent ahead of Eid

Dhaka

DHAKA: An eerie silence pervades the restaurants and shopping malls in Dhaka’s diplomatic quarter, usually teeming with well-heeled urbanites, now standing empty since the killing of 20 hostages at a popular cafe.

Five days after the brutal siege at the Holey Artisan Bakery in the Bangladeshi capital, many establishments remain closed, with shaken residents of Gulshan too afraid to venture out.

“Our guest numbers have gone down dramatically so the management took the decision to keep it shut for a while,” said Abdul Mazid, a guard at Meraki, a well-known restaurant in the neighbourhood.

The run-up to Eid celebrations that mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan usually see shopping malls overflowing with crowds and millions of dollars changing hands in just a few days.

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But this year Gulshan DCC market, usually bustling with Eid shoppers ahead of the biggest festival in the Muslim calendar, stood deserted.

At least five gunmen stormed the bakery on Friday evening, sparking an 11-hour stand-off with police that saw victims murdered with machetes, most of them Italian or Japanese.

Around the corner from the site of the bloodbath, Thai restaurant Soi 71 and neighbouring Korean diner Suaron, which usually remain lively past midnight, were shuttered Tuesday.

“Ours is a happening business, it’s hard to believe how quiet it has become over the past few days,” said Mohammad Farhan, manager of the upmarket Butlers Chocolate Cafe, where waiters were standing around.

“It has just turned upside down.”

Britain was among countries urging its citizens to avoid areas frequented by foreigners, such as international hotels, large supermarkets or clubs, while Japanese firm Uniqlo restricted non-urgent travel for employees.

As Dhaka residents attempt to regroup, fears are mounting that the attack may herald an escalation of violence in Bangladesh.

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Islamist militants have been blamed for a wave of murders of foreigners, religious minorities and secular writers over the past three years.

However, Friday’s murders were on a totally different scale.

“I keep thinking about escape routes in our apartment and the building complex… I am too scared to be in my city any more,” Dhaka-based private university researcher Shahana Siddiqui posted on Facebook.

The revelation that the attackers were educated, well-off members of society has sparked fears that Islamism has become a fashion not confined to disenfranchised youngsters being radicalised in madrasas.

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“Missing young men are potential moving bombs now. They can strike anywhere, any time,” Mushtaq Ahmed, an entrepreneur, posted on social media.

At a mourning ceremony for the dead at a heavily secured park in Gulshan on Monday night, some expressed fears that the weekend attack will not be the last.

“What we are seeing today is only the tip of the iceberg,” retired Brigadier General Sakhawat Hossain, a security analyst, told the gathering.

“They came to kill and propagate their agenda. The ideology is there among our children.”

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