Battle with terrorists continues in Mumbai

28th November 2008, Comments 0 comments

The toll is 119 dead and more than 300 injured in attacks on high-profile locations.

New Delhi -- Indian forces continued their battle with terrorists in luxury hotels in the financial hub Mumbai where scores remained trapped on Thursday, nearly 24 hours after the gunmen fanned out to high-profile locations and indulged in shooting sprees that left 119 dead and more than 315 injured.

Among the terrorists' targets were two five-star hotels, the Taj and the Trident, Mumbai's busiest railway station, two hospitals, police headquarters of south Mumbai, a Jewish center and a restaurant popular with foreigners.

A Maharashtra police official said the death toll in the attacks had climbed to 119. A total of 315 people including 22 foreigners were wounded.

"There are eight foreigners among the dead but they have not yet been identified," the official said over phone from Mumbai.

The Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome confirmed that an Italian national was among those killed, while a German company said one of its employees was among the victims.

A German television executive was among the people who lost their lives during the atack, his company in Munich said Thursday.

Ralph Burkei, 51, from the city of Munich suffered fatal injuries in a fall as he climbed down the facade of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel during the night after it came under attack, a Munich newspaper, the Abendzeitung, said.

He was director of programming at C.A.M.P. TV, a private company based in Munich which produces daily news slots and travel features for commercial networks.

Ralph Piller, chief executive of C.A.M.P., said, "He landed on an awning. He was still lying there when he phoned a friend in Munich and said, 'I've broken every bone in my body. If no one helps me now, I'm finished.'"

Burkei died on his way to hospital, said the newspaper. A preliminary casualty toll by Germany's Foreign Ministry indicated he was the only German killed in the attack, but others were wounded.

A Japanese, an Australian and a British national had also died, PTI news agency reported.

Fourteen policemen, including four senior officials were killed in clashes with the terrorists.

Gunshots and grenade blasts could be heard at the Taj and Trident as smoke billowed from fresh fires set off when elite commandos of a special force as well as the army and navy tried to flush out the terrorists and bring hostages to safety.

Meanwhile, the encounter between the troops and the terrorists intensified at the Trident as nearly 50 rounds of gunfire were exchanged Thursday evening, the NDTV network reported.

While the Taj has been cleared of all guests, more than 100 people were still inside the Trident and about 35 of them may have been taken hostage, the report said. Some guests could be seen waving from the windows of the Trident hotel.

A group of gunmen also seized the Nariman House building which houses the headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish community Chabad Lubavitch. They took a Jewish family hostage, local media reported.

The Israeli embassy said 10 to 15 Israelis had been taken hostage, some of them in Trident hotel, while 25 others were unaccounted for.

Maharashtra chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said operations could continue through the night and into the morning if needed. But Deshmukh maintained that there was no hostage-like situation in either of the two hotels where people had locked themselves in their rooms for safety.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a televised address to the nation, said the attacks were well planned and well orchestrated and were intended to create a sense of panic by choosing high-profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners.

He said the terrorists in all probability had external links and it was evident that the group, which carried out these attacks were based outside the country.

A little-known organization called the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility in e-mails sent to local news agencies.

Subsequently, Imran Babar, who identified himself as one of the terrorists, called up the India TV news channel saying they wanted to have talks with the government for the exchange of hostages and also complained about human rights excesses in Indian Kashmir.

The Maharashtra government however denied that any contact had been made by the terrorists or any plans to hold negotiations.

Police said at least a dozen terrorists had come in a mother vessel to a nearby dock after which they transferred to inflatable high speed boats that took them right up to the famous gateway of India monument located on the edge of the Arabian Sea directly across from their targets.

Deshmukh said that 20 to 22 terrorists were involved in the attacks. Seven had been killed, some suspects had been arrested while at least 10 were still at large, news reports said.

The highest profile target was the 105-year old Taj hotel, popular with the influential and the well-heeled.

A group of terrorists stormed into the hotel at around 9:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday firing indiscriminately. Several people were killed, including 15 staff members, who made heroic efforts to ensure the safety of guests, the hotel management said.

A guest who escaped from the Taj described the gunmen as young men, clad in casual clothes and carrying automatic weapons and satchels of ammunition.

Another eyewitness interviewed by NDTV described how they had locked themselves up in their room and waited for hours to be rescued. Others described the bodies and blood they saw in the corridors.

The gunmen also attacked the Trident hotel where they are believed to have taken hostages, including several foreigners. In both hotels the gunmen spread out to different parts making operations against the difficult, NDTV reported.

Maharashtra Police Chief AN Roy said the operation was taking a long time due to considerations of the security of guests at the Trident.

At the Taj, security forces carried out a room to room search. At least six bodies and several hostages emerged from the hotel and were carried away by ambulances during the day.

South Mumbai wore a deserted look Thursday with most offices were closed. Markets and theaters were shut as were schools colleges and the stock markets.

Meanwhile, the remainder of Britain's one-day cricket series against India was scrapped following the terrorist attacks. The English players will return home without playing the remaining last two matches of the seven-match series in view of the security concerns voiced by the visiting team.

The government has advised people to stay away from markets and theatres as some terrorists could still be at large, IANS news agency reported. Hotels have been advised not to take new guests.

The financial hub has been the target of terrorists in the past. More than 180 people were killed in serial bomb explosions on its busy suburban rail network on July 11, 2006.

In August 25, 2003, two car bombs killed 60 people and another bomb attack on a commuter train in March that year let 11 dead. India is among the countries worst-affected by the scourge of terrorism.

More than 600 people have died in India as a result of terrorism since 2003. But Wednesday's attacks are unprecedented in both scale and precision, police officials said. Junior home minister Sriprakash Jaiswal described the situation as a "wartime emergency."

In the aftermath, German airline Lufthansa cancelled two flights to the Indian city of Mumbai on Thursday, but said it would resume flights to Mumbai on Friday.

It said it took the decision in consideration of the safety of its crew and passengers after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The Thurday flights had been scheduled to depart from Frankfurt and Munich.

The German Foreign Ministry advised travelers in India Thursday "to avoid Mumbai for the time being" and to stay informed about the situation. Travelers already in Mumbai were warned to stay indoors till the authorities said it was safe to go out.

German travel agencies said they were re-routing tours of India to miss Mumbai because of the violence and visit other Indian towns instead. Package tourists in Mumbai itself were offered home flights as quick as possible.


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