Facebook Twitter

Indian commandos search for survivors of terrorist attack

SHARE Indian commandos search for survivors of terrorist attack
Relatives of slain Indian policeman Vijay Salaskar grieve at his funeral in Mumbai, India, Thursday.

Relatives of slain Indian policeman Vijay Salaskar grieve at his funeral in Mumbai, India, Thursday.

Strdel, Getty Images

MUMBAI, India — Indian authorities appeared to be gaining control of the crisis in Mumbai on Friday, as commandos scoured two charred luxury hotels, searching for survivors of the bands of gunmen who unleashed a day and a half of chaos here.

At a third location, a Jewish community center where remnants of the well-organized squads of attackers appeared to have dug in, black-clad commandos dropped from a helicopter onto the roof Friday morning, The Associated Press reported. Supported by sharpshooters firing from nearby buildings, the soldiers prepared an assault to retake the community center.

Amid early indications that the sieges were ending, fears were growing that the toll would rise past the 119 known dead. Late Thursday, smoke was still rising from one of the hotels, and people who escaped reported stepping around bodies. Dozens of people, perhaps many more, remained trapped in the hotels, though it was uncertain if any were being held hostage. The wounded numbered some 300.

There remained much mystery around the group behind the attack, unusual in its scale, its almost theatrical boldness and its targeting of locales frequented by wealthy Indians and foreigners.

Two men who claimed to be among the gunmen called local television stations, demanding to speak with the government. They complained about the treatment of Muslims in India and about Kashmir, the disputed territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.

"Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir?" a caller who identified himself as Imran asked. "Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims?"

The men said they were Indian, but the attacks appeared to ratchet up tensions in an already volatile region.

In a televised speech, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, blamed forces "based outside this country" in a thinly veiled accusation that Pakistan was involved.

The attacks could threaten recent U.S. efforts to reduce the overall enmity between Pakistan and India, which were meant to enable Pakistan to focus more military resources against the rising threat of the Taliban in its lawless tribal areas.

Singh issued a warning that seemed clearly aimed at Pakistan, which India has often accused of allowing terrorist groups to plot anti-Indian attacks.

"The group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country," he said. "We will take up strongly with our neighbors that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated, and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them."

While many of the targets seemed to indicate a focus on tourists and Westerners, most of the victims were Indians, who had packed into the banquet halls and restaurants in the hotels, according to witnesses and officials; even street vendors in Mumbai's main train station were sprayed with bullets.

The chief minister of Maharashtra state, Vilasrao Deshmukh, told CNN-IBN, a private television channel, that six foreigners had been killed and seven wounded. Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the capital of Maharashtra.

Hisashi Tsuda, 38, a businessman and father of two from Tokyo, was killed, his company announced Thursday. Brett Taylor, 49, a timber merchant from Sydney, Australia, had been staying at one of the besieged hotels, the Oberoi, and was confirmed dead. Antonio de Lorenzo, a businessman from Livorno, Italy, was killed at the Oberoi, according to reports quoting Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini.

A German, Ralph Burkei, 51, was fatally injured when he jumped out of the other hotel under assault, the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel. According to several reports citing the Munich newspaper Abendzeitung, Burkei, a co-owner of an independent television production company in Munich, called a friend from his cell phone and said: "I have broken every bone in my body. If no one helps me now, I'm finished." He died on the way to the hospital.

Andreas Liveras, 73, a Cypriot-born yachting tycoon and British national, was also killed, and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said at least seven Britons were wounded.

The U.S. Embassy said it was unaware of any American casualties, though at least three wounded Americans were at Bombay Hospital, one of several hospitals where the injured were being taken.

Several high-ranking law enforcement officials were reported killed, including the chief of the antiterrorism squad and a police commissioner.

Throughout Thursday, Indian soldiers and paramilitary forces fanned out across the southern tip of the city, where the attacks were focused. Normally bustling, it was deserted. Stores were shuttered. Cars sailed along the empty streets. Most offices were closed, along with the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Near Leopold Cafe, a popular restaurant that was among the first places struck Wednesday night, a bloodied shoe lay on the ground beneath a car with smashed windows.

For most of the day, smoke billowed out of the Taj hotel, one of the city's most famous landmarks. Loud explosions could be heard throughout the afternoon from inside the Oberoi hotel, also known as the Trident, which is also in South Mumbai, near the Arabian Sea. After sundown, a fire broke out on its fourth floor.

The state's highest-ranking police official, A.N. Roy, told NDTV, a private news channel, that National Security Guards commandos, aided by the police and army and navy troops, had scoured the Taj hotel, room by room, for remaining civilians and were moving cautiously through the Oberoi because of the likelihood of hostages there. The police said 14 police officers had been killed in the city, along with seven gunmen. Nine suspects were taken into custody, they said.

"We are not negotiating at all," Roy told the channel. "We will get them and get them soon. We have some definite clues and leads. It was a very well-planned and very well-executed operation."

It was impossible to know precisely what was going on inside the two hotels, except that intense firefights occurred between security forces and an apparently audacious band of gunmen.

Occasionally, a curtain would part, a window would open and the figure of a guest would become visible.

Hospitals were mobbed with men and women searching for their kin, and morgues received a steady stream of bodies. Doctors said the wounded had been shot. On the shaded steps of the Regal Cinema near the main train station, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, sat a handful of dazed spectators. The cinema was closed; "A Quantum of Solace" would not be playing Thursday.

The gunmen appear to have come ashore at the Sassoon Docks, not far from the Leopold. They moved on to the train station, the old Victoria Terminus, and then opened fire on Cama and Albless Hospital — where some of their earlier victims encountered a second round of gunfire. At one point, the gunmen hijacked a police vehicle and opened fire on journalists and spectators gathered near a famous theater, the Metro Cinema.

Witnesses and security camera video of the gunmen built a portrait of them as young men dressed in jeans and trendy T-shirts, bearing rucksacks and guns. It remained unclear who they were, what they wanted, or how many survived.

Earlier on Thursday, Indian news channels received a claim of responsibility from a group called Deccan Mujahedeen; the name may refer to the Deccan Plateau, which dominates central and southern India. But security experts said the group might not exist.

The casualties ran the gamut of Mumbai society. A street vendor was shot and killed near the main train station, where he sold a popular snack known as bhel puri. A manager at the Oberoi survived a bullet wound to his leg but was taken to the Cama and Albless Hospital, where a shootout erupted; he died after being transferred to a second hospital.

A chef at the Taj who had been hiding under a kitchen table for most of the night was discovered by four gunmen, made to stand up and shot from behind.

Escape attempts took place sporadically at the hotels. Before dawn on Thursday, several guests and workers managed to leave the Taj, but as gunmen opened fire on them, some fled back inside.

In the late afternoon, about 10 hostages left the Oberoi, waving and looking relieved, but answering no questions.

The director general of the paramilitary National Security Guards, J.K. Dutt, told CNN-IBN television that troops were trying to coax frightened people out of the Oberoi.

"They are in their rooms," he told the station. "They are not prepared to open their doors. As far as terrorists are concerned, we know exactly where they are."

Reuters quoted the state's deputy chief minister, R.R. Patil, as saying 100 to 200 people could be inside the Oberoi. "We cannot give you the exact figure, as many people have locked themselves inside their rooms," he said.

The Chabad-Lubavitch center, a Jewish community hall in a crowded residential area roughly between the two hotels, was also singled out for attack. The whereabouts of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, who runs the center, remained unknown, according to the organization. Puran Doshi, a local developer and a former city councilman, said the rabbi and his wife and child had been evacuated.

But friends of the Holtzbergs gave a different account. They said that while the couple's 2-year-old son, Moshe, and a cook had escaped about 12 hours into the siege — the boy's pants soaked with blood — there was still no news about the boy's parents.

The gunmen inside killed several locals, apparently shooting anyone they could find. Around 10 p.m. on Thursday, the lights were extinguished in and around the building, known as Nariman House. It was not clear whether, or when, security forces might advance into the building.

Shortly after 11 p.m., television showed as many as a half-dozen people, including several elderly ones, being escorted out of Nariman House by security forces. The authorities said they believed gunmen might still be holed up there.

Air France issued a statement saying that 15 of its flight crew members had been unable to get out of a hotel in Mumbai. The company spokeswoman did not name the hotel or provide any details, except to say that the Paris-bound flight they were due to work on was canceled. Many international flight crews stay at the Oberoi.

The suspicions raised by the attack seemed a blow to relations between India and Pakistan, which had been recovering from a low earlier this year after India blamed the Pakistani intelligence agency for abetting the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan. India has frequently accused Pakistan-based militant groups of fueling terrorist attacks on Indian soil, though lately it has also acknowledged the presence of homegrown Muslim and Hindu militant organizations.