Grief, relief and fear as the battle of Mumbai still rages
As the death toll rose to 119, the last, defiant militants continued to hold out in the face of a fierce offensive by Indian commandos
Friday 28 November 2008
Bloody room-to-room battles between black-clad Indian commandos and well-armed militants holed up in luxury Mumbai hotels were continuing last night, after an unprecedented attack in India's financial hub that killed at least 119 people and left more than 300 wounded.
Confusion swirled as reports of the sieges being over were swiftly followed by reports of fresh gunfire and new explosions, and the Israeli and Italian authorities said their nationals were still being held hostage more than 24 hours after the ordeal began. But there were hopes the violent drama might be drawing to a close as police appeared to be gaining the upper hand.
Andreas Liveras, a yachting millionaire from Nottinghamshire who was on this year's Sunday Times Rich List, was confirmed as one of the six dead foreigners, apparently killed moments after telling a TV station he was safe.
With Indians wondering who had inflicted this co-ordinated terror campaign that struck 10 sites around the city, the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was swift to point a finger at Pakistan, suggesting the gunmen had outside support.
"It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital," he said in a broadcast. "We will take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them."
The death toll from the worst violence in Mumbai since a series of train bombings in 2006 is expected to rise once the crack security services team, known as the Black Cats, finish flushing out the last gunmen and gain unhindered access. Survivors have spoken of the many bodies they stepped over and the streams of blood they waded through barefoot to escape.
The Islamist attackers, armed with AK-47 rifles and bags of extra magazines and explosives, made a final stand last night at the Taj Mahal Palace, the Trident-Oberoi, and a Jewish community centre.
England's cricket team – due to stay at the Taj – were preparing to fly home today after the one-day internationals were called off. But they were expected to return to play the two-Test series in December.
Much detail is still unclear. What is known is that roughly two-dozen heavily armed men, in jeans or combat trousers and thought to be in their early twenties, had undertaken much sophisticated planning. The assailants reportedly came ashore in dinghies close to the Gateway of India, commandeered a vehicle and then raced to the hotels and Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station, spraying bullets as they went. Ratan Tata, whose company runs the 105-year-old Taj hotel, suggested the men might have mounted a reconnaissance mission. "They seem to know their way around the back office, the kitchen. There has been a considerable amount of detailed planning," he told a news conference.
Indian authorities said around a dozen attackers had been killed, and that, since Wednesday night, 400 guests had been evacuated from the Taj and at least 60 from the Trident-Oberoi. What remained unclear was how many were still inside, barricaded in their rooms or held hostage by remaining gunmen as fires continued to lick at parts of both buildings.
But relief was writ large on the faces of those who managed to escape. Marilyn Ernsteen, of Chicago, emerged from the Taj clutching a copy of Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Lucky One. "I was very scared," she said. She and her husband, Joseph, were at the end of a three-week holiday. He said: "We were in our room at 11.15 when we got a telephone call saying, 'Please stay in your room'. We could hear explosions, lots of gunfire. We just kept the door shut. This morning, at about 9am, I said, 'I've had enough of that.' I put my head out of the door, yelled, and then we walked out by a back staircase."
Police had taken up defensive positions around the hotel perimeter while commandos were hunting the terrorists inside. Local television showed images of Black Cat teams working through the 800 rooms, turning on the lights once they were sure a room was cleared. Nearby, the Café Leopold, an expat haunt that was among the first places to be attacked, was closed. Its chaotic, furniture-strewn interior was visible behind the shutters. At the Trident-Oberoi in the leafy Nariman Point area, gunfire broke out intermittently and explosions were reported. Police had cordoned off the building and helicopters clattered. Commandos were also surrounding a Jewish community centre, run by an ultra-orthodox group, the Chabad Lubavitch, where Rabbi Gavriel Noach and his wife were being held hostage. Their two-year old son, Moshe, was pulled out by the cook. The toddler was unharmed but his clothes were soaked in blood.
One gunman, barricaded inside the centre, phoned a TV channel to offer talks with the government and to rail against the treatment of Muslims in Kashmir. "Ask the government to talk to us and we will release the hostages," said the man with a Kashmiri accent who identified himself as Imran. "Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims? Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?"
The wounded were taken to hospitals across the city. Yesterday, the families of those caught up in the incidents waited for news. Many faced the task of identifying bodies. At the city's Sir Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy hospital, Mohan Lal Narang, 76, and his daughter were sitting on a bench, dazed. They had enquired about a missing aunt and were told there was no record, so they asked to see the bodies lined up in the morgue. "She was among them." Mr Narang said. "We cannot believe we have lost our entire family." His brother and nephew had also died after going to the Taj for a celebratory dinner. The nephew had previously called his wife, at 3.30am to say he was fine and was holed-up in the wine cellar. Later, he was found dead.
A previously unknown group, the Deccan Mujahedin, has claimed responsibility but there was no official confirmation. The Pakistani Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, visiting India for peace talks, said he was "shocked and horrified". But, aware of Prime Minister Singh's comments, he said: "Let us not jump to conclusions, let us not go in for knee-jerk reactions."
Terror attacks: Developments
* Death toll from attacks rises to 119, with a further 315 wounded.
* A 72-year-old British millionaire, Andreas Liveras, is named as one of those killed by the terrorists. Other foreigners killed include a German, a Japanese, an Australian, and an Italian.
* Indian commandos go room to room in Trident-Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels to rescue hostages and flush out attackers.
* Eight hostages released from Mumbai's Jewish centre
* Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blames "external linkages" for the attacks – a code-word for Pakistan.
* A Pakistani spokesman condemns the attacks and cautions against "knee-jerk reactions".
* The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, describes the killings as an "attack on all of us".
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