Mumbai terror survivors blame police for deaths

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The Independent Online

Survivors of the Mumbai terror attacks have accused police of causing the death of some of those trapped inside the Taj Mahal hotel by telling them it was safe to leave when armed militants were still at large. The fleeing guests were subsequently shot dead.

Dr Prashant Mangeshikar, a leading gynaecologist, had been trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel along with hundreds of other guests as the militants stormed into the 105-year-old building, spraying gunfire. He and scores other barricaded themselves into a room and waited.

In the early hours of the following morning, police reached the group and told them it was safe to leave the hotel because four militants had been cornered on a different floor. “I was suspicious that the police were sending these guys down a different route where the terrorists were supposed to be,” said Mr Mangeshikar. “I refused to move away and the people who ran ahead of me, 20 or 30 of them, all died.”

The allegation came as the attacked hotels, the Taj Mahal and the Trident-Oberoi, last night reopened amid heightened security. A prayer ceremony including Hindu chants and a reading from the Koran, marked its opening three weeks after the attacks. Around 32 guests and staff were killed by the gunmen.

For Mumbai, still shocked and bewildered, the reopening of the establishments will represent a symbolic yet important effort to move on from the attacks which killed 170. While hotel bookings have been down by 30 per cent, officials at the Trident said they had been inundated with inquiries. At today’s opening of the Trident-Oberoi, guests held pink roses and staff stood with folded arms, as Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist prayers were read in the lobby.

“We are feeling sad as we are reminded of the events, but we are happy the hotel is open again,” Rashmi Mehra, a regular at the Frangipani restaurant, who lost a friend in the attacks. “We are going to see if we can get a table for lunch – we were told it’s fully booked.”

Part of the Taj Mahal hotel was also reopened. Up to 1,000 clients and guests were invited to a gala reception. Among the staff on duty was Karambir Singh Kang, a general manager at the hotel whose wife and two sons were killed by fire, trapped in their room on the sixth floor. All the while Mr Kang had worked to rescue other guests.

The claim by Mr Mangeshikar and others that some guests at the Taj Mahal hotel died because of the police action – denied by Mumbai officials – comes as India is trying to overhaul its counter-terrorism measures. Two bills, one to double the number of days suspects can be questioned without charge and another to establish an FBI-style agency, were passed last week.

A diplomatic stand-off continues between India and Pakistan. Indian authorities say the attacks were carried out by the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). While the authorities in Islamabad have arrested dozens of LeT members, India says Pakistan needs to do more before relations between the countries can be normalised. India’s Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said today the country had provided enough evidence for Pakistan to act against those accused of the attacks. “Pakistan must co-operate. Mere talk is not enough. Pakistan has to act,” he said. In Pakistan, his counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said: “We are ready for co-operation. God willing, we will co-operate because it is in the interest of Pakistan.”