At least 80 dead in Mumbai terror attacks
27 November 2008
MUMBAI – Nearly 80 people were killed in a series of attacks apparently targeting foreigners in the Indian city of Mumbai late Wednesday, as heavily armed Islamist militants hit two luxury hotels.
A group calling itself the "Deccan Mujahedeen" claimed responsibility for the assaults on the landmark Taj Mahal and Trident hotels in the south of the city and a number of shooting and bombing incidents elsewhere, the Press Trust of India said.
Maharashtra state chief secretary Johnny Joseph said 78 people had been killed. Estimates of the number of injured ranged from 200 to 350.
Maharashtra state police chief A.N. Roy told the NDTV channel that "unknown terrorists" had opened fire in "at least seven to eight places" across the city.
The focus of the coordinated assaults was the two upscale hotels, with gunmen taking foreign guests hostage and exchanging fire with anti-terrorist commando units.
Commandos stormed the Taj early Thursday, apparently leading to the release of guests inside, with television footage showing people being shepherded out of the building.
Shortly afterwards, the upper floors of the landmark hotel became engulfed in flames and huge plumes of smoke billowed out from its distinctive red dome. It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze or whether the gunmen were still inside.
One of those killed during the operation was Mumbai’s Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare.
Police said two gunmen were shot dead.
Mumbai General Railway Police Commissioner A.K. Sharma said several men armed with AK-47 rifles had stormed into the passenger hall of Mumbai’s main Chhatrapati Shivaji railway and opened fire and thrown grenades.
At least 10 people were killed in the attack shortly after 10:30pm (1700 GMT).
Elsewhere, firing was also reported at Cama Hospital in south Mumbai, and three people were reported killed in what police called a "bomb blast" in a taxi in the southeast of the city.
Earlier one British guest at the Taj told local Indian television that he had been among a dozen people herded together by two heavily armed men and taken up to the hotel’s upper floors.
"They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts," the guest said.
"They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports and then they took us up the stairs. I think they wanted to take us to the roof," he said, adding that he and another hostage managed to escape on the 18th floor.
The Taj, opposite the British colonial era Gateway of India, is one of the world’s leading hotels and is regularly used by visiting dignitaries and rich guests.
The head of the Madrid regional government, Esperanza Aguirre, was staying there at the time but she and her delegation escaped unhurt, a government spokesman in Madrid told AFP.
Mumbai had been the start of a four-day official visit to India.
The BBC News website said a British member of the European Parliament, Sajjad Karim, was also in the hotel at the time and saw a gunman open fire in the lobby.
"All I saw was one man on foot carrying a machine gun-type of weapon – which I then saw him firing from and I saw people hitting the floor, people right next to me," he was quoted as saying."All I saw was one man on foot carrying a machine gun-type of weapon — which I then saw him firing from and I saw people hitting the floor, people right next to me."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the attacks, which Interior Minister Shivraj Patil described as a "big conspiracy."
The US State Department voiced shock at the "horrific" events in Mumbai, while British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the attacks "outrageous."
France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms."
India has witnessed a wave of coordinated attacks in recent months.
A little-known Islamic group, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for serial blasts last month in India’s northeast state of Assam that claimed nearly 80 lives.
A total of 12 explosions shook the insurgency-hit state, six of them ripping through crowded areas in the main city of Guwahati.
Six weeks earlier, the capital New Delhi had been hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 dead. Those blasts were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen.
[AFP / Expatica]