Six ISIS-linked gunmen have been killed after murdering at least 22 people in a restaurant in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.
Police said at least 13 hostages had been freed from the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, where one suspected gunman was captured in a military operation.
An ISIS-linked propaganda agency released photos from inside the restaurant during the raid, appearing to show the bodies of women and men on the floor in pools of blood.
The group released a statement saying “Islamic State commandos” attacked the restaurant, describing it as “frequented by foreigners”.
Bangladeshi police would not confirm the terrorists’ claim to have killed 24 victims and wounded 40, saying that two police officers had died, but a military official later said 20 foreign hostages were also dead.
Seven Japanese people, who worked as consultants for the country’s foreign aid agency, were among those unaccounted for, and several Italian nationals were also believed to be among the hostages killed.
Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said he could not give further details until families had been notified.
“We followed the events all night hoping for a different outcome,” he said, adding that a government plane was flying to Dhaka.
An Indian teenager was also among the hostages murdered, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said.
She named the victim as Tarushi, 19, and said she had attended the city’s American School and studied at Berkeley University in the US.
Philip Hammond said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was investigating whether any British citizens were caught up in the “appalling act of violence” and sent his thoughts to the victims and their families.
Witnesses described up to nine gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they burst into the Holey Artisan Bakery at 9.20pm local time on Friday (4.20pm BST).
A police officer at the scene said that when security forces tried to enter the premises at the beginning of the siege they were sprayed with bullets and grenades.
Assailants exchanged sporadic gunfire with police outside for several hours as negotiators attempted to contact the gunmen before troops raided the building.
Gowher Rizvi, an adviser to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said the crisis started when security guards in the Gulshan district of Dhaka noticed several gunmen outside a medical centre.
When the guards approached, the gunmen ran into the Holey Artisan cafe, which was packed with people waiting for tables, he said.
A cafe employee who escaped told local television that around 20 customers were in the restaurant at the time, most of them foreigners, and 15 to 20 staff.
The Holey Artisan Bakery, popular with foreign officials and expatriates, sits in the affluent diplomatic quarter of Bangladesh’s capital near the embassies of the US, Turkey, Germany and other nations.
Bangladeshi’s secular authoritarian Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, vowed to fight terrorism and urged people with information to come forward.
“Because of the effort of the joint force, the terrorists could not flee,” she said.
“Anyone who believes in religion cannot do such act. They do not have any religion, their only religion is terrorism.”