India troops mop up last Mumbai militants

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The Independent Online

Indian commandos killed the last Islamist gunmen holed up at Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel early today, ending a three-day battle across the financial capital that left at least 195 dead.

"Taj is under our control," Mumbai police chief Hasan Gafoor told Reuters, shortly after the building was raked by heavy gunfire as flames leapt from windows.

At least three militants and one trooper were killed after a running gunbattle through a maze of corridors, rooms and halls, the country's commando chief, Jyoti Krishna Dutt, told reporters.

The gunmen had set parts of the hotel ablaze as they played cat and mouse with scores of India's best-trained commandos, known as the Black Cats.

Sniffer dogs were taken into the iconic 105-year-old hotel and ambulances arrived. Some commandos did a final sweep of the rooms, while others boarded buses to pull out, looking exhausted.

Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata Group of companies which owns the hotel, arrived at the premises later in the morning. He may be shocked by what he finds when he is finally let inside.

"The lobby is an absolute mess," said Manish Mundra, a volunteer who was bringing food to security forces and had been inside the hotel. "The furniture is broken, there is water everywhere they are never going to to be able to reuse any of that stuff."

Black streaks of soot stained the grey bricks, white balconies and red-tiled roofs of the hotel's facade. Two of its corner stained-glass windows were broken.

The Taj Mahal was the last battleground after three days of intense fighting in various parts of the city of 18 million.

Several newspapers said some of the militants had checked into the Taj hotel some days or weeks before the attacks, while the Times of India said they had rented an apartment in the city a few months ago pretending to be students.

On Friday, an army general said the gunmen appeared to be "very, very familiar" with the layout of the hotel, giving them a crucial advantage over his men. They were also well trained.

"At times we found them matching us in combat and movement," one commando told the Hindustan Times. "They were either army regulars or have done a long stint of commando training."

Mumbai police said that at least 195 people had been killed and "we are still counting" as bodies were collected from the luxury Taj and nearby Trident-Oberoi hotels, scene of another siege that ended on Friday.

Well-dressed but haggard-looking guests were let back to their rooms in the Trident wing of the hotel on Saturday morning to collect their belongings.

Staff said they would re-open that wing on Wednesday, but not the Oberoi wing which was badly hit by a long gunbattle.

The Trident lobby was covered in broken glass, with bullet holes in the glass stair bannisters and in the doors leading into the Opium bar. A grand piano was left unscathed, but cars parked outside were also riddled with bullet holes.