Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dozens Reported Dead as Gunmen Launch Attacks in Mumbai, India

Dozens reported dead as gunmen run amok in Mumbai

At least 80 killed by gunmen armed with rifles and grenades

Coordinated attacks on hotels, railway stations, hospital and cafe

Foreign nationals taken hostage, say eyewitnesses

Randeep Ramesh in Delhi, Wednesday November 26 2008 22.07 GMT

In one of India's worst terror attacks, gunmen ran amok in the wealthiest part of Mumbai tonight, killing dozens of people, blowing up cars, petrol stations, hospitals and luxury hotels and taking a number of foreign nationals hostage.

More than 80 of people were reportedly killed - with ten shot dead at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, one of the two major stations in downtown Mumbai. Another three people were killed in the Hotel Taj lobby, where European workers are believed to be holed up.

At one hospital, St George's in south Mumbai, there were 60 bodies brought in and 200 injured. The chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, said he had put the army on red alert in an unprecedented admission that civil forces were unable to control the law and order situation in India's financial capital.

Shots were reported in eight areas across Mumbai including the crowded CST railway station, two five star hotels - the Trident and Taj - leaving hundreds injured. At ten to one in the morning, one of Mumbai's icnonic landmarks, the Taj hotel, was shaken by huge blast and its roof enveloped in red smoke.

Two armed men were still believed to be in the Taj hotel, evading the security forces and reportedly holding hostages. The hotel lobby of the Trident hotel was destroyed by a fire, although it was not clear what had started the flames.

Maharahstra state police chief AN Roy told local television stations that Mumbai was suffering "terrorist strikes in at least seven places. Unknown terrorists have gone with automatic weapons and opened fire indiscriminately. At a few places they even used grenades".

The police said more than 1000 people had been evacuated from the Trident hotel, with waiters in black and white formal wear running across the roads.

At the Taj, television pictures showed some of the injured were evacuated on the hotel's golden luggage carts.

Several European lawmakers were among those inside the hotel. Sajjad Karim told the Press Association that he and several other lawmakers were barricaded inside the Taj Mahal Hotel.

"I was in the lobby of the hotel when gunmen came in and people started running," he told PA by phone from the basement of the hotel.

"A gunman just stood there spraying bullets around, right next to me. I managed to turn away and I ran into the hotel kitchen," he said. Karim was part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a forthcoming EU-India summit.

Janice Sequeira, a tourist who had been at a restaurant in the Taj Mahal Hotel, told reporters that the situation had been "really scary. It was like the sound of loud crackers, not one but several, we just ran out of there".

At the luxury Oberoi hotel gunmen burst into the Khandahar restaurant and reportedly took American and British nationals hostage.

Rajesh Patel, a Briton who works for HSBC, said; "Three men came into the restaurant. They were young, around 20 yrs old. And they started rounding up foreigners that were eating there. They told everyone to drop their phones and to 'come with us' and then at that point the blast happened. So we decided to run outside but around 15 were taken, not just British and Americans but Indians as well. They were taken up to the 20th floor but we had run outside."

On Times Now, a local television station, a British man with a soot-covered face described how two young men, aged between 20 and 25, in jeans and carrying Kalashnikov and a rifle entered the Trident hotel restaurant in the late evening and demanded that "only American and British passport holders remain".

According to the man he said 10 people were taken up towards the rooftop but when smoke filled the corridors of the 18th floor, he escaped. "I ran down the stairs. Another three came down. Another five went up. I don' t know what happened."

It was reported tonight that Maharashtra's chief Anti Terror Squad officer Hemant Karkare had died in bomb blast in Trident hotel lobby.

Commandos had begun to enter both the Taj and Trident hotels in groups of fifteen in attempt to rescue hostages and disarm the attackers.

The terror strike began at 10:33 PM at Chhatrapathi Shivaji Terminus(CST). The gunmen then sprayed a popular restaurant, Café Leopold, with bullets and at Cama Hospital in south Mumbai. Leopold's was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood stains on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers.

Another three persons were killed in a bomb explosion in a taxi on Mazegaon dockyard road. There were reports of a boat packed with explosives being defused at the Gateway of India, another symbol of the country. Indian news channels showed wreckage of bombed cars, blasted scooters, the remains of shops and broken glass strewn across the streets of south Mumbai.

Armed police, rifles cocked at the hip, set up barricades around the sites of the attacks, and local people were seen yelling at each other, angry that another terror attack had hit the city.

Vehicles and street vendors' barrows were used to keep locals away, and speeding military four-wheel drives with horns blaring arrived at the bomb sites.

The motive for the attacks was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terror attacks, including a series of blasts in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

The city has been hit repeatedly by attacks since March 1993, when Muslim underworld figures tied to Pakistani militants allegedly carried out a series of bombings on Mumbai's stock exchange, trains, hotels and gas stations.

Authorities say those attacks, which killed 257 people and wounded more than 1,100, were carried out to revenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in religious riots which had swept India.

Ten years later, in 2003, 52 people were killed in Mumbai bombings blamed on Muslim militants and in July 2006 a series of seven blasts ripped through railway trains and commuter rail stations. At least 187 died in those attacks.

Mumbai rocked by deadly attacks

Gunmen have carried out a series of co-ordinated attacks across the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay), killing at least 80 people and injuring 250 more.

At least seven high-profile locations were hit in India's financial capital, including two luxury hotels where hostages are reported to be held.

A fire has destroyed part of the Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai's most famous hotel, which is now ringed by troops.

Police said four suspected terrorists have been killed and nine arrested.

As day broke in Mumbai, the situation on the ground was still confused with reports of gunfire and explosions at between seven and 16 locations.

The city's main commuter train station, a hospital, a restaurant and two hotels - locations used by foreigners as well as local businessmen and leaders - are among those places caught up in the violence.

Commandos have now surrounded the two hotels, the Taj Mahal Palace and the Oberoi Trident, where it is believed that the armed men are holding dozens of hostages.

A BBC correspondent outside the Taj Mahal Palace said there had been a series of gun shots between police and the armed men, and that 11 officers were killed in the skirmishes.

Eyewitness reports suggest the attackers singled out British and American passport holders.

If the reports are true, our security correspondent Frank Gardner says it implies an Islamist motive - attacks inspired or co-ordinated by al-Qaeda.

A claim of responsibility has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

Our correspondent says it could be a hoax or assumed name for another group.

The motive is far from clear - but the attacks come amid elections in several Indian states, including in disputed Kashmir.

In the latest developments:

• Fire crews are evacuating people from the upper floors of the Taj Mahal Palace, from where smoke can still be seen billowing although the blaze has been extinguished

• The head of Mumbai's anti-terrorism unit and two other senior officers are among those killed, officials say

• The White House holds a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials, and pledges to help the Indian government.

Gunmen opened fire at about 2300 local time (1730 GMT) at the sites in southern Mumbai.

"The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed," said AN Roy, police commissioner of Maharashtra state.

Local TV images showed blood-splattered streets, and bodies being taken into ambulances.

One eyewitness told the BBC he had seen a gunman opening fire in the Taj Mahal's lobby.

"We all moved through the lobby in the opposite direction and another gunman then appeared towards where we were moving and he started firing immediately in our direction."

One British tourist said she spent six hours barricaded in the Oberoi hotel.

"There were about 20 or 30 people in each room. The doors were locked very quickly, the lights turned off, and everybody just lay very still on the floor," she said.

There has been a wave of bombings in Indian cities in recent months which has left scores of people dead.

Most of the attacks have been blamed on Muslim militants, although police have also arrested suspected Hindu extremists.

Mumbai itself has also been attacked in the past: in July 2006 a series of bomb attacks on busy commuter trains killed almost 190 people and injured more than 700.

Police accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of planning those attacks, which they said were carried out by an Islamist militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Pakistan rejected the allegation, saying there was no evidence that its intelligence staff were involved.

But the latest shootings come at a time when ties between India and Pakistan have improved.

Just days ago Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told a summit in Delhi that Pakistan would not be first to carry out a missile strike on India.

The two countries have a joint anti-terror mechanism whereby they are supposed to share information on terrorist attacks.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/11/27 01:46:52 GMT

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