Gunmen have taken several people hostage, including foreign nationals, at a Spanish restaurant in a diplomatic area of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Friday, a top security official said.

The gunmen entered the Holey Artisan Bakery restaurant in the evening while a number of customers were having dinner, Benzir Ahmed, chief of the security force Rapid Action Battalion, said.

The gunmen shouted the Muslim phrase "Allah hu Akbar" (God is Great) while firing gunshots and setting off explosives inside the building, according to a staff member who managed to flee from the restaurant.

At least 20 people were having dinner when around eight gunmen entered the restaurant at about 8:45 pm and began firing their guns, he told reporters.

Private broadcaster Channel24 reported that a police officer was killed and three others, including a bystander, were wounded in the attack, as police exchanged fire with the criminals.

"We are trying to establish contact with the gunmen to resolve the crisis," the battalion chief told local media, urging television channels not to broadcast the operation live.

He said the police spoke to a number of staff members of the restaurant after they managed to flee the scene, which has been cordoned off by security forces.

"It's a Spanish restaurant where customers usually come for dining in the evening," Ahmed said.

"Every life is important to us, we want to talk to the gunmen and resolve the crisis," the security chief said.

He could not give identity of the attackers. No group has claimed the responsibility of the attack.

Bangladesh has witnessed a number of attacks by Islamist militants in recent months, predominantly targeting religious minorities and atheists in the country.

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