|101 killed as gunmen rampage in India city|
|Thursday, 27 November 2008|
MUMBAI, India – A trickle of bodies and hostages emerged from a luxury hotel Thursday as Indian commandoes tried to free people trapped by suspected Muslim militants who attacked at least 10 targets in India's financial capital of Mumbai, killing 101 people.
More than 300 were also wounded in the highly coordinated attacks Wednesday night by bands of gunmen who invaded two five star hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station, a Jewish center and at least five other sites, armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives.
A previously unknown Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the carnage, the latest in a series of nationwide terror attacks over the past three years that have dented India's image as an industrious nation galloping toward prosperity.
Among the dead were at least one Australian, a Japanese and a British national, said Pradeep Indulkar, a senior government official of Maharashtra state, whose capital is Mumbai.
He said 101 people were killed and 314 injured. Officials said eight militants had also been killed.
The most high-profile target was the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, a landmark of Mumbai luxury since 1903, and a favorite watering hole of the city's elite.
The attackers, dressed in black shirts and jeans, stormed into the hotel at about 9:45 p.m. and opened fire indiscriminately.
"I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai before a European Union-India summit.
Suddenly "another gunman appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction," he told The Associated Press over his mobile phone.
Australian Greg Plunkett, 61, said he thought the noise of gunfire was breaking glass.
He said he saw an elderly woman cradling her husband's head in her lap. "He was pretty badly hit," Plunkett said. "There was plenty of blood."
The shooting was followed by a series of explosions that set fire to parts of the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront. Screams were heard and black smoke and flames billowed, continuing to burn until dawn.
Dalbir Bains, who runs a lingerie shop in Mumbai, was about to eat her steak by the pool at the hotel when she heard the sound of gunfire. She didn't know what it was until she saw a man bleeding, calling for help.
She said she ran upstairs, taking refuge in the Sea Lounge restaurant, with about 50 other people.
"The gunshots were following us," she said.
They huddled beneath tables in the dark, trying to remain as quiet as possible while explosions were going off.
"We were trying not to draw attention to ourselves," she said. "It was very, very uncomfortable." The group managed to escape before dawn.
The gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch and attacked the Oberoi Hotel, another five-star landmark.
The gunmen appeared to be holed up inside all three buildings on Thursday, nearly 18 hours later, holding foreign and local hostages, as Indian commandos surrounded the buildings.
Among those held captive were Americans, British, Italians, Swedes, Canadians, Yemenis, New Zealanders and a Singaporean.
"We're going to catch them dead or alive," Maharashtra Home Minister R. R. Patil told reporters. "An attack on Mumbai is an attack on the rest of the country."
Witnesses said gunfire was heard from the Taj Mahal and the Chabad facility.
"It seems that the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of the Chabad house," said a spokesman for the Lubavitch movement in New York, Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin.
Around 10:30 a.m., a woman, a child and an Indian cook were seen being led out of the building by police, said one witness.
He said he did not know the status of occupants of the house, which serves as an educational center and a synagogue.
Police loudspeakers declared a curfew around the Taj Mahal hotel, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area.
Soldiers outside the hotel said the operation would take a long time as forces were moving slowly, from room to room, looking for gunmen and traps. Every body found had to be checked by sniffer dogs, said one senior officer on condition of anonymity.
In the afternoon, bodies and hostages slowly emerged from the building. At least three bodies, covered in white cloth, were wheeled out.
About a dozen hostages including foreigners were also evacuated from the hotel and whisked into a waiting ambulance. Several of them carried small pieces of luggage. One older man was carried into the ambulance by police.
At the nearby Oberoi hotel, soldiers could be seen on the roof of neighboring buildings. A banner hung out of one window read "save us." From the road, no one could be seen inside the room.
At least three top Indian police officers — including the chief of the anti-terror squad — were among those killed, said and A.N. Roy, a top police official.
The attackers appeared to have been targeting Britons and Americans.
Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands.
"They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: 'Where are you from?" and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone. And I thought: 'Fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn't," he said.
Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.
The United States, Britain and Pakistan were among the countries that condemned the attacks.
In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said the U.S. "condemns this terrorist attack and we will continue to stand with the people of India in this time of tragedy."
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered India "all necessary help." Pakistan called for common efforts to eliminate terrorism.
The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.
Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist with the Swedish National Defense College, said there are "very strong suspicions" that the coordinated Mumbai attacks have a link to al-Qaida.
He said the fact that Britons and Americans were singled out is one indicator, along with the coordinated style of the attacks.
"There have been a lot of warnings about India lately and there are very strong suspicions of a link to al-Qaida."
Mumbai, on the western coast of India overlooking the Arabian Sea, is home to splendid Victorian architecture built during the British Raj and is one of the most populated cities in the world with some 18 million crammed into shantytowns, high rises and crumbling mansions.
An Indian media report said a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails to several media outlets. There was no way to verify that claim.
Among the other places attacked was the 19th century Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station — a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture — where gunmen sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal, leaving the floor splattered with blood.
"They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground," said Nasim Inam, a witness.
Photos in the Mumbai Mirror newspaper showed a young gunman — dressed like a college student in cargo pants and a black T-shirt — walking casually through the station, an assault rifle hanging from one hand and two knapsacks slung over a shoulder.
Other gunmen attacked Leopold's restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. Gunmen also attacked Cama and Albless Hospital and G.T. Hospital, though it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed.
India has been wracked by bomb attacks the past three years, which police blame on Muslim militants intent on destabilizing this largely Hindu country. Nearly 700 people have died.
Since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people. The most recent was in September, when explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.
Relations between Hindus, who make up more than 80 percent of India's 1 billion population, and Muslims, who make up about 14 percent, have sporadically erupted into bouts of sectarian violence since British-ruled India was split into independent India and Pakistan in 1947.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
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