Night of terror in Dhaka left 'bodies in a terrible state'

AFP , Monday 4 Jul 2016

Relatives and friends of Tarishi Jain, a victim of the attack on Dhaka's Holey Artisan Bakery, carry her body for cremation in Gurgaon, in the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Monday, July 4, 2016. (Photo: AP)

Gianni Boschetti's life was saved by a single phone call. The Italian textile worker stepped out of a Dhaka cafe to speak on his mobile moments before the restaurant was stormed by Islamists who slaughtered 20 people.

His wife Claudia Maria D'Antona was not so lucky.

She was trapped inside with scores of other hostages during the hours-long siege.

She shrieked his name, and then went silent. He hid in the garden for several hours but heard nothing more from D'Antona.

"The last time I heard my wife's voice is when she called for me from the inside," Boschetti told La Repubblica.

"I was sick with fear for myself and was worried about what was happening inside, with the agonising feeling of not being able to see my wife."

D'Antona was one of nine Italians murdered in the Islamic State-claimed attack at the upscale Holey Artisan Bakery that began Friday night and finally ended Saturday morning when security personnel stormed the cafe.

Seven Japanese, two Bangladeshis, an American and an Indian were also killed.

D'Antona's husband hid from the attackers in the cafe garden as they coralled diners inside, and heard "haunting cries" from the terrified hostages before he was able to flee to safety.

"For hours I was hoping for a miracle, but in the end I had to accept the truth," he said after identifying his dead wife's body, who he said was likely killed by a bullet.

"I saw bodies in a terrible state, from beatings and sharp weapons, but not my wife's. Maybe she didn't suffer."

Among the other victims were former classmates from the American International School in Dhaka who had gathered Friday for a reunion at the cafe popular among foreigners.

Abinta Kabir's family scoured city hospitals on Saturday, finally getting word one bloodied victim was wearing the same shoes and clothes she had last been seen in.

"Blood dripping from her hair, her neck, her lips were blackened," Kabir's cousin Hazera Afiya wrote on Facebook.

"Her body contained wounds and bruises. She was gone.

"She was the heart and soul of her family and was taken from us in a second."

The relatives of foreign hostages murdered in the attack were in Dhaka Monday to take their relatives' bodies home, many in tears as Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid wreaths on the coffins of those killed.

Two people have been arrested over the murders after six suspected jihadists were killed Saturday by commandos, in what is by far the deadliest of a spate of recent attacks in the country.

Some victims did development work in the impoverished South Asian nation, and all seven of the Japanese who died worked with the government-run Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

One of them was 32-year-old Makoto Okamura who was engaged to be married next year, his father told Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

"I called her yesterday, and she broke down crying on the phone," the weary-looking 71-year-old said, referring to his son's fiancee.

The Japanese victims also included 80-year-old veteran engineer Hiroshi Tanaka.

"He was so eager to work for his country and for Bangladesh," his brother told Fuji TV.

Some Japanese may have believed that their non-Western nationality could have saved them. One apparently pleaded with the attackers in English not to shoot because he was Japanese, Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported, citing a resident near the cafe.

"I'm Japanese, don't shoot," the man apparently yelled.

Like the JICA employees, Boschetti and D'Antona were also involved in helping Bangladeshis.

The couple, who had lived in Dhaka for 20 years, supported a local organisation that performed plastic surgery on female victims of acid attacks, Italian media reported.

The pair had been married just one or two years according to diplomatic sources in Dhaka.

They rarely went out to restaurants but were at the cafe on Friday to meet a client.

"My sister and her husband Gianni were a fantastic couple, two golden people, very involved in charity work," D'Antona's sister Patrizia said.

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