Thursday, November 27, 2008

Forces fight through siege hotels

A man being carried from the Taj Mahal hotel, 27 November 2008
Security forces have freed some of the people trapped in two hotels

Commandos are fighting to clear the last gunmen from two luxury hotels in Mumbai, more than 24 hours after a series of attacks across the city.

The Taj Mahal hotel was nearly free of gunmen, officials said, but operations continued at the Oberoi-Trident hotel.

At a third stand-off, at a Jewish centre, seven hostages were freed, a security official said.

Indian PM Manmohan Singh vowed to track down the attackers, who have killed at least 119 people and injured 300.

Gunmen targeted at least seven sites in Mumbai late on Wednesday, opening fire indiscriminately on crowds at a major railway station, the two hotels, the Jewish centre and a cafe frequented by foreigners.

The attacks are the worst in the city since 260 people were killed in a series of bombings.

A security official said one gunman remained in the Taj Mahal hotel and that the military was in control of the situation.

Commandos were continuing their sweep of the Oberoi-Trident, where a number of guests were trapped in their rooms or being held hostage, said JK Dutt, of the National Security Guards.

A home ministry official said earlier there might be 20-30 people being held hostage at the Oberoi-Trident. Owners said some 200 people were trapped in the hotel.

Cafe owner Farzed Jehani: 'A grenade was thrown into the restaurant'

But Maj Gen RK Hooda said he did not think there were any hostages there, and 39 people had been rescued.

"When the search was carried out from room to room these were the people, they had locked themselves into the rooms," he said.

One militant at the Jewish centre reportedly phoned local TV from the centre offering to negotiate over the release of hostages.

Israel's embassy in New Delhi had earlier said at least 10 Israeli nationals were trapped or being held hostage in Mumbai.

In other developments:

· The Indian navy said it was searching ships off the west coast following reports that gunmen had arrived in Mumbai by boat

· The UK Foreign Office said a British national, Andreas Liveras had died; a German, a Japanese man and an Italian are also among the dead

· The Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has been blamed for past bombings in India, denied any role in the attacks

In a televised address, Mr Singh said the government "will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure the safety and security of our citizens".

He said the attackers were based "outside the country" and that India would not tolerate "neighbours" who provide a haven to militants targeting it.

He described the attacks as "well-planned and well-orchestrated... intended to create a sense of panic by choosing high profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners".

Flames and black smoke billow from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai, on 27/11/08

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.

Maj Gen Hooda said authorities had intercepted conversations between some of the attackers speaking in Punjabi, an apparent reference to Pakistan-based militants.

Earlier reports said the attackers spoke Hindi, indicating they were from India.

But Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in New Delhi for talks, said no-one should be blamed until investigations were finished.

"Our experience in the past tells us that we should not jump to conclusions," he told Dawn television.

Amid international condemnation of the attacks, US President George W Bush telephoned Mr Singh to offer his condolences and support.

Claim of responsibility

In the attacks late on Wednesday night, groups of young men, armed with grenades and automatic weapons, targeted at least seven sites including the city's main commuter train station, a hospital and a restaurant popular with tourists.

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: "Whatever measures are necessary"

Police say 14 police officers, 81 Indian nationals and six foreigners have been killed.

Four suspected terrorists have also been killed and nine arrested, they add.

At the height of the stand-off at the Taj Mahal hotel, gunfire and explosions could be heard from inside.

Earlier eyewitness reports from the hotels suggested the attackers were singling 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.

 Map of Mumbai showing location of attacks


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