Step by step, how the terrorists were removed

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The Independent Online

India's elite commando forces told today how they were forced to fight from room to room to clear terrorist gunmen from Mumbai's flagship hotels.

Amid dozens of bodies and through darkened corridors slick with blood, the commandos came up against well-trained and determined opponents.

"When we first exchanged fire we could have got the terrorists, but for the hotel guests" in the line of fire, an unidentified member of India's Marine Commando unit said. "The bodies were lying strewn here and there and blood was everywhere."

The Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels - among the best-known destinations for wealthy tourists and the city's elite - were stormed by the gunmen during a chain of militant attacks across India's financial centre that began Wednesday night and left at least 143 people dead.

It was a game of cat and mouse through the hotels' hundreds of rooms, and in many cases the gunmen had the advantage.

"These people were very, very familiar with the hotel layouts and it appears they had carried out a survey before," the commando said.

The gunmen used their knowledge to move skilfully from place to place, thwarting efforts to pin them down. To further confuse the commandos, they switched off lights and plunged the rooms into darkness.

One gunman, who was still roaming the Taj Mahal nearly 48 hours after assault began, was hiding in a ballroom, said army commander General N. Thamburaj.

"He is moving in two floors, there is a dance floor area where he has cut off all the lights. Sometimes he gets holed up in the rooms and makes that area dark," he said.

The commandos also could not use overwhelming force, fearing that they would hit the hundreds of civilians who were caught in the hotels.

Many guests hid in their rooms until they were rescued. Others were not so lucky.

The gunmen showed "no remorse to anybody, whoever came in front of them they fired," said the commando. "They appeared to be a determined lot, wanting to create and spread terror."

The gunmen were well trained, well armed and ready for a long siege. One backpack the commandos found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.

Some gunmen carried bags of almonds to eat during a long siege and dollars, rupees and credit cards from local and international banks.

They were armed with assault rifles and hand grenades and knew how to use them.

"It's obvious they were trained somewhere ... not everyone can handle the AK series of weapons or throw grenades like that," the commando said.