Friday, November 28, 2008

The Battle of Mumbai Update: Indian Troops Continue Efforts to End Siege

Troops battle to end Mumbai siege

Commandos are battling the last few militants at a landmark Mumbai hotel, two days after the start of attacks which have killed at least 144 people.

While almost 100 people were rescued from a second hotel, six bodies were found at a Jewish centre and battles rage on at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

A 29-year-old rabbi and his wife were confirmed as among those killed.

India's foreign minister has said "elements with links to Pakistan" were involved in the attacks on Mumbai.

However, his Pakistani counterpart has urged India not to bring politics into the issue, saying "we should join hands to defeat the enemy".

'Ultimate sacrifice'

As night fell on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, the landmark building which has become the symbol of the crisis, the BBC's Adam Mynott reported that militants were continuing to hold out.

New explosions and gunfire rang out from the luxury hotel at about 0400 local time (2230 GMT), reports said. Blasts had rung out for most of the day after truckloads of commandos entered the premises.

A journalist and bystander outside the hotel were taken to hospital after being hit by shrapnel.

Indian commandos who managed to enter other parts of the Taj say they found at least 30 bodies in one hall.

JK Dutt, the head of India's elite National Security Guards, told Reuters news agency he suspected two or three gunmen remained inside.

Fighting appears to have ended at the other key flashpoints in Mumbai, chief among them the Oberoi-Trident hotel - where nearly 100 people were rescued and 24 bodies were found earlier on Friday.

But at Nariman House, the Mumbai base of Chabad-Lubavitch, a New York-based orthodox Jewish organisation, the news was grim.

As night fell in Mumbai, the organisation confirmed that Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, had been killed alongside his wife, Rivka.

The Holtzbergs had moved to India in 2003 from New York to run the Mumbai branch of the outreach organisation, which offers services and hospitality to Jewish travellers.

In New York, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, of Chabad-Lubavitch, said the Holtzbergs made "the ultimate sacrifice".

The couple's young son Moshe - who will mark his second birthday on Saturday - was evacuated from the building earlier in the day as commandos battled the hostage-takes inside. He is now being cared for by his grandparents.

There was no word on the identities of the others found dead on the premises, but Orthodox Jewish rescuers sent to Mumbai to assist also confirmed that five bodies had been found. Two kidnappers were also reported killed.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the attack was no coincidence: "The fact that the attack took place at the Chabad house is the clearest sign that the attack was directed against Jews and Israelis."

Death toll rising

The stand-offs began late on Wednesday when gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades opened fire indiscriminately on crowds at a major railway station, the two hotels, the Jewish centre, a hospital and a cafe frequented by foreigners.

Indian media have reported that at least 154 people have been killed since Wednesday, with around 370 injured, the vast majority Indian citizens.

An Indian official said the toll could rise much higher.

"Once the bodies are collected, the number of deaths might go up to 200," said Minister of State for Home Affairs Sri Prakash Jaiswal.

Confirmation also came on Friday that a French couple and two US citizens died while eating at the Oberoi-Trident. The US state department said Americans were still at risk in Mumbai.

At least 16 foreigners are known to have died, including victims from Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy and Singapore. One Briton, Andreas Liveras, has been killed.

But security services said they had killed at least two militants as they freed people from the Oberoi-Trident on Friday morning.

One of those freed, Briton Mark Abell, spoke of his delight at seeing several heavily armed soldiers at his hotel door after spending more than 36 hours in his room.

But he was shocked by the state of the hotel. "The lobby was carnage, blood and guts everywhere. It was very upsetting," he told the BBC.

Pakistani 'link'

State home minister RR Patil, speaking outside the Oberoi-Trident hotel, said a total of nine militants had been killed, along with 15 police officers and two commandos.

He said one of those arrested was a Pakistani citizen.

Earlier, the Indian navy took control of two Pakistani merchant navy ships and began questioning their crews after witnesses said some of the militants came ashore on small speedboats.

India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said preliminary evidence "leads us to believe that some elements in Pakistan may be connected to these events". But he added that it was too soon to give details.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi responded by saying: "This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy."

The head of Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, was due to travel to India to discuss the situation with his Indian counterparts, but will now send a representative instead, reports say.

India has complained in the past that attacks on its soil have been carried out by groups based in Pakistan, although relations between the two countries have improved in recent years and Pakistani leaders were swift to condemn the latest attacks.

But the BBC's Pakistan correspondent, Barbara Plett, says there is a feeling among senior officials in Islamabad that India has acted too hastily in linking the Mumbai attackers to Pakistan.

In the UK, officials denied reports that some of the attackers may have been British citizens of Pakistani origin.

The UK officials said had Indian authorities told them there was no indication so far that anyone shot or in custody was British.

A claim of responsibility for this week's attacks - the worst in India's commercial capital since nearly 200 people were killed in a series of bombings in 2006 - has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

However, most intelligence officials are keeping an open mind as the attacks have thrown up conflicting clues, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/11/28 22:35:47 GMT

Friday, November 28, 2008
22:44 Mecca time, 19:44 GMT

Siege ends at Mumbai Jewish centre

Gunfire and grenade blasts were heard at the Taj Mahal hotel

Indian commandos have ended the siege of a Jewish centre in Mumbai, storming the building and recovering the bodies of five hostages, while fighting continued at a luxury hotel elsewhere in the city.

The siege at the Nariman House ended on Friday, the private NDTV news channel said, two days after attackers carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across India's financial capital.

Al Jazeera's Matt McClure, reporting from outside the Nariman House in south Mumbai, said several gunmen have been killed in the assault by the security forces .

"Now we are told they [security forces] are slowly moving room-to-room there to make sure there are no booby traps," he said.

Raging battle

The bodies of five hostages were recovered from the building, an Israeli emergency medical crew that entered the building after the raid, said.

Among the bodies were those of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, who ran the centre, and his wife, the Chabad Lubavitch organisation said.

A day earlier, two workers and the rabbi's son had escaped from the building.

The battle at the building that houses the headquarters of Chabad Lubavitch, included a team of at least nine commandos rappelling onto the roof from helicopters. Several large explosions were also heard.

Elsewhere in the city, gunfire and grenade blasts were heard at the Taj Mahal hotel and security forces at another hotel, the Trident-Oberoi, found 24 bodies after gaining control of the building.

More than 155 people are now known to have been killed since the attackers launched a series of assaults across Mumbai on Wednesday night.

Indian troops earlier took control of the Trident-Oberoi hotel, which had also been the scene of a hostage standoff, killing two attackers, the chief of India's national security guard said.

"We are just now sanitising each and every room," J K Dutt said.

Some frightened civilians inside the hotel are refusing to leave their rooms, he said.

Twenty-four bodies were found inside the hotel, Hasan Ghafoor, Mumbai's police chief, said.

Meanwhile, at the Taj Mahal hotel at least one gunman was said to still be inside.

"The Oberoi-Trident is completely clear, there is one terrorist left in the Taj who is giving us trouble and he could hold hostages and that is why we are very cautious," Gafoor said.

Hundreds trapped

James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent outside the Taj Mahal hotel, reported: "The authorities believe they have secured the majority of the Taj hotel. We were told some time ago their attention was focused on the ballroom, but it's still a confused situation."

The chief of India's Marine Commando Force said that his troops had come across "12 to 15 bodies" while sweeping through the Taj.

"The [attackers] were the kind of people with no remorse - anybody and whomsoever came in front of them, they fired," the commando said.

"We could have got those terrorists but for so many hotel guests ... The bodies were lying strewn here and there. There was blood all over and in trying to avoid the casualty of those civilians, we had to be that much more careful," he said.

Foreigners killed

Ratan Tata, who runs the company that owns the Taj Mahal hotel, said the attackers had detailed knowledge of the layout of the buildings.

The strikes by small bands of armed men starting on Wednesday night shocked Mumbai, the nerve-centre of India's growing economic might and home to the Bollywood film industry.

At least eight foreigners, including an Australian, a Briton, an Italian and a Japanese national, have been killed.

Fourteen policemen, including the head of Mumbai's counter-terrorism force, have also been killed, police say.

A US investigative team is heading to Mumbai, a state department official said on Thursday evening.

Media speculation

Police said they had taken nine suspected attackers into custody.

The Indian media, citing unidentified police investigators, reported that three alleged attackers had confessed to being members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group which aims to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means army of God, had earlier denied any role in the attacks.

The Hindu newspaper said interrogation of the suspects revealed that Lashkar operatives had left Karachi in Pakistan in a merchant ship early on Wednesday and went ashore at Mumbai on a small boat before splitting up into teams to attack multiple locations.

Earlier, a little known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahidin claimed responsibility for the attack in emails to news organisations.

Dipankar Banerjee, a retired Indian general, told Al Jazeera that he does not rule out the possibility that the Indian Mujahidin, blamed for previous attacks, were responsible for the Mumbai assaults.

In a speech on Thursday, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, blamed "external forces", a phrase sometimes used to refer to Pakistan-based fighters.

Pakistan has condemned the attacks and has said it will fully co-operate with an Indian investigation.

But in a diplomatic exchange that raised the prospect of renewed tension between India and its neighbour, Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian foreign minister, urged Pakistan to dismantle infrastructure that supported armed groups.

Al Jazeera's Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad said: "More and more people here are inclined to think that this is an indigenous, internal Indian phenomenon and that India is scapegoating Pakistan.

"Since yesterday the Indian media insinuated that elements within Pakistan were involved. However on the Pakistani side there has been relative quiet and also a sense of responsibility shown by the journalists not to jump to conclusions," he said.

The Associates Press reported that US officials and Indian diplomats were working out details for the departure of a team of FBI agents to join the investigation into the Mumbai attacks.

Deaths mount as India siege nears end

By James Lamont in New Delhi
November 28 2008 14:06

Indian commandos on Friday took control of Mumbai’s Oberoi hotel and a siege at a Jewish centre was reported to be over leaving five hostages dead, but battles continued with militants who were still holed up in another luxury hotel.

At least one gunmen continued to hold out at the luxury Taj hotel, where explosions and gunfire erupted regularly as he played cat-and-mouse with the elite Indian commandos through the maze of corridors and rooms.

An Israeli diplomat told Israeli television by telephone from the scene that the bodies of five hostages had been found in the Jewish religious centre. ”The incident has not ended,” Haim Choshen told Channel 2. ”Five bodies of hostages have been found inside the Chabad House. We still don’t know whose bodies.”

As bodies began to be removed from the Oberoi, the number of people killed in the attacks rose to more than 140, with about 315 wounded. An Oberio hotel manager said that all guests who were still alive had now been freed, but a police commander said it would take some time to complete the removal of the dead bodies from the hotel.

Indian commandos said earlier that dislodging the terrorists was proving a difficult task, indicating that the death toll could rise rapidly.

As Indian forces continued to fight room-to-room battles with terrorists at the Taj hotel, the Indian government increased its pressure on Pakistan as the suspected source of the attacks.

A senior marine commando officer, dressed in a black balaclava to obscure his identity, said the ”very determined and remorseless” militants were well armed and had smuggled an arsenal of weapons into the hotels ahead of their attack, including plastic explosives.

”There is blood all over, bodies all over. We are not looking at those who have been killed, just looking at who is exchanging fire,” he said.

The marine commander said the terrorists appeared to know the layout of the Taj hotel better than the Indian security forces. He also said his soldiers had recovered $1,200, Rs6,000 and eight credit cards from the militants.

”We do not know the layout of the hotel. Staff did not know the layout,” he said.

At the time of the briefing on Friday afternoon, the commander said there were an estimated three to four terrorists in the Taj hotel and two militants in the Oberoi hotel.

A naval spokesman said the attack on Mumbai had come from the sea. He said the militants landed in rubber boats and they could number as many as 24 people.

One victim of the Taj attack was named on Thursday night as self-made millionaire businessman Andreas Liveras, 72, a Cyprus-born UK citizen who died shortly after he had spoken to the BBC via his mobile phone about the attacks.

The Indian government said Friday that the attacks probably had their origins in Pakistan. Pranab Mukherjee, India’s external affairs minister, said preliminary investigation pointed towards Pakistani involvement, in spite of assertions by President Asif Ali Zardari that land under Pakistani control would not be allowed to launch attacks on India.

Pakistan denied involvement. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said: ”Do not be jingoistic … do not play politics with this issue. This is a collective issue.”

A little-known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks. A militant claiming to be one of those holding the Jewish family rang an Indian television channel to offer talks on the release of the hostages while complaining about India’s actions in Kashmir. India and Pakistan are at odds over the disputed territory, with Islamic fundamentalists staging cross-border raids against Indian forces.

The attacks come at a critical time for the Congress party-led government, which faces an election by next May and is trying to deal with a slowing economy.

Commentators have been critical of its record on security, with police struggling to bring militants to justice despite the growing frequency of attacks in cities.

”We’re the ultimate soft state,” said Suhel Seth, a marketing expert who had a room at the Taj when the attacks occurred. “You have 20 people holding a country of 1.1bn people to ransom.”

Mumbai’s government said up to 25 men dressed in jeans and T-shirts and armed with AK-47s and grenades arrived by boat in the city and attacked up to eight locations. Mumbai’s most senior police officer, A.N. Roy, said the terrorists would be “caught or killed”. More than half have been reported killed or missing, and police said nine suspects had been arrested.

Condemnation flooded in over the attacks, which have brought India’s financial capital to a halt, with most businesses closed on Thursday, including stock markets. The US president, George W. Bush, called Mr Singh to express condolences and offer support.

At least six foreigners, including Mr Liveras, an Australian, an Italian and a Japanese national, have been killed. Mr Liveras set up Liveras Yachts based in Monaco. The wife of Karambir Singh Kang, the Taj’s general manager, and their two children died from smoke asphyxiation, according to a hotel spokesperson.

Friday, November 28, 2008
07:15 Mecca time, 04:15 GMT

Indian troops storm 'last hold-out'

The Oberoi appeared quiet just before dawn on Friday

Indian forces have stormed a Jewish centre that appears to be the last hold-out of attackers who had carried out a series of co-ordinated assaults in Mumbai, India's financial capital, leaving up to 120 people dead.

Troops were seen on television rappelling down from a helicopter into the headquarters of Orthodox Jewish group Chabad Lubavitch early on Friday after attackers had taken the building more than 24 hours earlier.

Hostages had earlier been freed from the building but attackers were believed to be still holed up inside.

The operation came after troops wrested control of the Oberoi hotel in Mumbai from armed attackers.

Hotel officials told Al Jazeera that all the guests were safe and the hotel had been secured.

Al Jazeera's Riz Khan, reporting from outside the Oberoi where gunfire had been heard throughout Thursday, said things were quiet just before dawn on Friday.

Commandos were combing through the Oberoi and the Taj Mahal, another luxury hotel and famous city landmark, for survivors and possible remaining attackers more than 24 hours after a string of well-organised strikes in the city left more than 120 people dead and over 300 injured.

'External linkages'

Meanwhile, The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, citing unidentified police investigators, reported on Friday that three alleged attackers had confessed to being members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group which aims to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means army of God, had earlier denied any role in the attacks.

The newspaper said interrogation of the suspects revealed that Lashkar operatives had left Karachi in Pakistan in a merchant ship early on Wednesday and went ashore at Mumbai on a small boat before splitting up into teams to attack multiple locations.

Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, condemned the attacks on Thursday and blamed those "outside the country".

"It is evident that the group that carried these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country," he said.

"I strongly condemn these senseless acts of violence against innocent people, including guests from foreign countries.

"The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of terror by choosing high-profile targets."

A little known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for the attack in emails to news organisations.

But Mahan Abedin, an insurgency analyst, told Al Jazeera that "at this stage, that name does not necessarily mean that much".

"We have seen an increase in recent years in indigenous Indian Muslim organisations beginning to take a violent stance towards the Indian state and sections of the Indian society, particularly the commercial elite of places like Mumbai, in order to highlight, they would say, the sheer inequality of life in India.

"There is a middle class of around 100 million who live very well but 800 million-plus people live in miserable conditions," he said.

Gun battles

Gunfire and explosions were heard throughout Thursday from the Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels where scores of terrified guests had been trapped in their rooms, and security forces said they were carrying out "mop up" operations to ensure all attackers had been subdued.

Witness accounts

"They told everybody to stop and put their hands up and asked if there were any British or Americans … My friend said to me, 'don't be a hero, don't say you are British.'"

- Alex Chamberlain, British guest at the Oberoi Trident who fled via a fire escape

"That was, without doubt, the worst experience of my entire life … We could hear the army coming through the hotel ... The firemen broke the windows of the room and we climbed down the ladder."

- Female guest, Taj Mahal hotel

"They wore black T-shirts and blue jeans. They were carrying big guns … They just fired randomly at people and then ran away. In seconds, people fell to the ground."

- Nasim Inam, at Chhatrapati Shivaji railway terminus

"As I stepped inside the lobby gunshots started to go off ... There were people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom."

- Brooke Satchwell, an Australian television actress, who hid in a cupboard in the Taj Mahal hotel.

At the Taj Mahal three attackers were killed in gunfights with government troops and commandos, Indian officials said.

"We are fully in control of the situation. I am fully confident we will achieve our objectives," JK Dutt, the director of India's National Security Guards, said.

An estimated 100 armed men launched what India police called "terrorist attacks" on 10 locations in India's financial centre.

The attackers fired indiscriminately and threw grenades, hitting the historic Chhatrapati Shivaji train station, the Leopold Cafe popular with tourists and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai.

Several attackers were killed and at least nine others arrested, police said.

At least 11 policemen, including three senior officers, were killed in the attacks, among them Hemant Karkare, the chief of the city's anti-terrorism squad.

At least nine foreigners were also among the dead, police said, but most of those killed and injured were locals.

Witnesses at the hotels that were targeted said the attackers had singled out British and American citizens.

"They kept shouting: 'Who has US or UK passports?'" Ashok Patel, a British citizen who fled from the Taj Mahal hotel, said.

Several European legislators, visiting Mumbai ahead of a European Union-India summit, were among those inside the Taj when it was besieged.

Thursday, November 27, 2008
12:31 Mecca time, 09:31 GMT

Voices from Mumbai

By Sugandha Johar

Shaken residents fled for their lives as the attackers took Mumbai by surprise

Mumbai, India's commercial capital, is a lively and vibrant city. It currently finds itself under siege following the co-ordinated attacks, but residents say the resilient city will survive and overcome the odds.

Al Jazeera captures some of the voices:

Raju Kane, CEO, Source PR Agency:

Obviously this attack meant to cause maximum terror. They have attacked Trident and Taj, the two most high profile targets. Senior businessmen from India, and senior MNC officials are some of those trapped there. After this attack people are going to think many times before coming to India.

This is bad for the image of the country, and bad PR. This will definitely have adverse effects on the economy as people will go back on their travel plans. Australia has already put out an advisory advising their citizens not to visit India.

We are already in a economic slowdown. This attack will have repercussions on the tourism industry which is reeling from the global meltdown. However, Mumbai itself will be stunned, scared for a few days and then come out of it. We pride ourselves in not letting terrorists or anything pull us down.

Ranu Vora - MD, Avendus, an investment bank:

The entire community is stunned as the targets are very important and vital business destinations. High profile deals and decisions take place in the portals of these two hotels. Because of these attacks many of the conferences and meetings will have to be cancelled or postponed. We ourselves were supposed to have a meeting with our investors, most of whom would have stayed at the Taj or the Trident. That meeting cannot happen now, which will have some fallout on some of our projects.

The stock markets are closed today, and there is bound to be some downturn for a while, but that is bound to be temporary. This is a security issue so some business can face a downturn.

The attacks will reduce the confidence of the investors which is already very shaky because of the liquidity crunch. This will mean that the stock market recovery will be more delayed than first envisaged.

But having said that it is also true that this is not the first time this city has been attacked. We are learning to take this in our stride. This attack has not and will not make any impact on our economic fundamentals. India will continue to grow albeit at a slower pace.

Ranjit Dhuru - Chairman of AFTEC, a software firm:

This attack was unexpected. Although it looks like they were after the US and the British citizens, it is aimed at destroying the Indian economy and our development. More than the economics it is going to have a severe effect on the polity. It will end up in hardening the attitude of the government to the terrorist and extremists which many felt was rather soft.

I worry that as this attack has come during election time it might lead to the rise of some rightist elements which I sincerely hope does not happen.

The Indian stock market is already in the doldrums. This has more to do with the global meltdown and the western investors pulling their money out. This attack might lead to a temporary setback, but then we have learnt to take such attacks in our stride. Some 15 -20 gun totting men cannot make a huge lasting impact.

I don't think the software industry will suffer as a result of this incident. Our industry has more to do with what happens in the US and Europe, and there we are already suffering. This might temporarily scare people but then such scares pass soon and then things get back to normal.

Harsh Roongta - Chairman, Apna Loan, a web company that gives retail loans:

Any such attacks anywhere in the world have to be roundly condemned. This one is unprecedented in terms of its planning, scale, manner and audacity. Although none of my near and dear ones were affected, my prayers are for those who have suffered horrendous loss.

Such attacks have a psychological cost. Terrorism has now become a part of the global landscape, and especially so for India. We have been attacked often and in different parts. Our only answer to such atrocities can be that we do not let them win. Ordinary people like me should and will go about their daily lives or else we give in to them.

Long term impact of these attacks cannot be predicted at this moment. The whole episode has to play itself out. I do know that it will have a cost, but what it is we do not know. If the situation is contained, and contained soon, any effect will be minimal. But then it has to be contained soon.

Sometimes such incidents also have a positive impact as they shock and jolt people in coming together. Having said this, the attack is bound to have personal ramifications and therefore economic ramifications. Overall, the situation is already very tentative because of the global slowdown, and this can make it further shaky for a while but after that things will settle back to normal.

The only way we can deal with them is to go about our lives and work in as usual and not let them win.

Satya Rath - Journalist:

The attacks as you know were very well planned and executed. Obviously, the intention was to show India that the terrorists can attack us at will – wherever and whenever they choose. The Taj and the Trident are big and important landmarks for Mumbai as the Twin Towers were for New York.

The attacks are certain to hit the economy where confidence is already low. Now the businesses and stock market will lose even more investors and that will hurt the common people even more.

I was at work opposite the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus when the attack on the train station began. We did not know what was happening so we rushed to the terrace to find out.

We saw two of the terrorists, and one of us tried to photograph one of them. He was also fired at, but luckily escaped unhurt.

We also saw twenty policemen trying to fight, but the situation was way beyond their league as the policemen only had 306 rifles which have to be loaded after every firing while they were facing terrorists armed with deadly automatic weapons.

Manda Mantri – Housewife:

There was carnage when the bomb went off outside my apartment. Police were everywhere. There were body parts all around, blood everywhere. We were just glued to the television, worried. Thankfully all my relatives are safe. I feel for those affected. I am so scared. I wonder what these people gain by killing innocents like the taxi driver who was killed in the blast in front of my home.

Source: Al Jazeera


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