At the hospital gate I hear one person saying his brother, a ranking police official was injured in the attack. I took down his information. He would not be let inside until another police official heard his pleading and ordered the gatekeepers to allow him inside.
I spent a few minutes recceing the place. The place was empty except a few pressmen and cops in the area. I have to dodge the crowd to make my way in. With the waiting journalists at the front gate, it would not be possible to exploit an entry from there.
If there were any possibility it would have to be an entry from the OPD. The OPD gate was wide open. A couple of security guards were there who did not bother stopping me because they knew it was only the first layer of security. At the glass door leading inside the hospital building, there were more guards. Expectedly, one of the guards at the glass door resisted.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I pulled up the name of the injured cop inside the hospital who I wished to see and sought an emotional appeal to make my way in. A few minutes later when a few uniformed cops entered inside, he fit me in. That was an entry much required to know the real picture.
This was time for another recce, this time inside the hospital. I looked around the floors, spoke to the guards for information about where the patients from the shooting attack were being taken. They were taken to different floors and care units depending on the intensity of their injuries, some to the ICU, some at the High Dependency Unit and some to the general wards. Once inside, the guards did not ask too many questions because they knew if someone could come this far, they must have the authority to ask whatever information they required.
I entered the general ward on level 6 with a few police officials. The ward had the most number of injured policemen from the shooting site. This is where I meet constable Mohammad Kamruzzaman, who was in the front row the first time the police charged at terrorists, who they confirmed were holding hostages inside the restaurant.
In retaliation the terrorists charged grenade at the police, who did not know what they were signing up for at the time. Kamruzzaman received splinters on his right leg and hand. He said they rushed to the spot within seven minutes of hearing about the attack on radio. The terrorists were firing from the second floor of the Holey Artisan Bakery, the upscale Dhaka restaurant frequented by foreigners almost all the time. They had a vantage point, as opposed to the police who were firing blank from the ground, Kamruzzaman told me.
I looked around the ward as ranking police officials visited their fellow policemen injured in the line of fire. One of the ranking officials was an old contact in the police. I was checking my facts with him and looking at their tallies. The initial trade of fire had at least three persons killed and 27 people including 25 policemen injured.
Around 2:00am I received message from a colleague that a navy commando force was being called into the site. I called up an old contact in the Navy, a senior official posted outside Dhaka, who was filling me in about the strength of the force. Interestingly, he was one of the key agents of this force called Special Warfare Diving and Salvage when it was first formed in the country with the training and technical support of the United States. He spoke with confidence that there was no alternative to this force and there was no room for negotiation in the given hostage crisis. Yet, since he was a former founding member of the naval special force, he provided me with a contact of the operations director at Naval Intelligence so I could verify their role in the operation.
I got a confirmation of the force’s deployment but the deputy director of the navy intelligence said that the force would work in support of the existing law enforcement forces and would not be taking lead. They do not want to compromise lives of the people inside.
I jotted down the information, typed them up on my mobile phone screen and sent the latest to London before heading out to the destination that was getting a lot of traction.
On landing outside the hospital I find the police picking up a person who apparently just escaped from the restaurant and was a suspect. A few other restaurant staffers identified him and tried to resist the police van from taking him away but they went in vain.