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Tales of terror from Mumbai

Published on 28/11/2008

28 November 2008

MUMBAI – Eyewitnesses described scenes of terror in the assault by Islamic militants in Mumbai, from bodies in pools of blood to hotel guests arming themselves with knives.

Caught up in the attack on India’s financial centre, many said they hid in the dark for hours, waiting to be rescued and fearing the militants would kill them.

"We heard some gunshots. We barricaded the restaurant and we moved everybody into the kitchen," said Faisul Nagel, a South African security guard who was in the Taj Mahal hotel with colleagues when the assault began.

Using tables and refrigerators to block themselves inside, Nagel said they armed themselves with the only weapons they could find.

"We basically put the lights off in the restaurant just to create an element of surprise. And we armed ourselves with kitchen knives and meat cleavers," he told AFP by phone.

They ended up helping around 120 people escape, including a 90-year-old woman who was carried down 25 flights of stairs.

Paul Guest, a retired Australian judge, was found by armed soldiers in his room at the Taj Mahal. He describes the scene as he left the building as, "Outside in the foyer of this beautiful hotel, (it) was just like in a fog with all the smoke. There was blood all over the floor and bits of bodies."

An unknown number of people were trapped in the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi/Trident, five-star hotels that were among a dozen sites attacked by militants on Wednesday night.

It was a night of terror for many, who tried to keep silent to avoid attracting attention of the attackers. They feared leaving their rooms, with the sound of shooting all around.

"We’ve been waiting for hours and hours for the army to come and say we can go downstairs," one Western woman told AFP by phone late Thursday from inside the Oberoi/Trident.

"We have to keep silent. They could be looking for hostages," she said.

David Coker, 23, and his partner Katie Anstee, 24, just arrived for a holiday to celebrate their graduation from university when they went to eat at Mumbai’s Cafe Leopold on Wednesday night.

"We had literally just ordered and then it seemed like firecrackers — people were screaming," he told Australia’s Courier-Mail newspaper.

Anstee was shot in the leg, with the bullet breaking her thigh bone and exiting through the front of her leg, while Coker was grazed by a bullet.

"I turned around and she was crawling out the door because she couldn’t walk," he said.

Coker said the attackers looked "just like boys".

Garrick Harvison, who was trapped in the Oberoi with an Australian trade delegation, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he kept looking at pictures of his young family to remain calm during his ordeal.

"For about the last six hours I’ve been told: ‘Yes, you’re out soon, you’re out soon, you’re out soon’," Harvison said. "But I understand the situation that people don’t want to go anywhere until (the militants) are eradicated."

Muneer al Mahaj, from the southern Iraqi city of Basra, got out of the Oberoi/Trident more than a day and a half after the assault began.

"I cannot believe what I have seen in the last 36 hours. I have seen dead bodies, blood everywhere," he said.

With the ordeal ongoing Friday, it was not immediately known if all those who spoke to outside media managed to escape.

One man who did not survive was 73-year-old Andreas Liveras, who gave an interview to the BBC by phone while he was stuck inside the Taj Mahal.

He said that as he was speaking, "The last bomb exploded about 45 minutes ago and it shook the hotel up. Nobody comes in this room and nobody goes out, and we don’t really know."

Liveras was later confirmed dead. The Cyprus News Agency quoted his brother saying he was "assassinated in cold blood".

[AFP / Tripti Lahiri / Expatica]