Troops Appear to Be Regaining Mumbai Control

Militants hold hostages after coordinated terrorist attacks leave over 125 dead.

November 27, 2008, 7:23 AM

Nov. 28, 2008— -- Indian security forces are still battling to take control of two of the three hostage locations in Mumbai.

The situation at the Taj hotel remains extremely tense with explosions and gunfire heard all day despite the fact that the hotel had been declared under control hours ago.

Debris from the blasts showered crowds outside, wounding several bystanders.

At the landmark building, Indian forces have been attacking a third floor window with a rocket- propelled grenade launcher.

Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj from the Indian army said his troops were hunting a final holdout fighter who was moving between two floors and had cut power to some areas.

"It is possible that this terrorist has got two or more hostages with him," the general said.

"He is moving in two floors, there is a dance floor area where apparently he has cut off all the lights. And sometimes he gets holed up into some of the rooms, and he has made the area dark," Thamburaj said.

The daylong battle has led to speculations that there must be more than one terrorist inside. Indian television reports that there are at least six gunmen returning fire on Indian security forces.

The siege at the Jewish center is, according to Mumbai's police chief, in "the end game" but ongoing.

"Five hostages have been killed and the place is yet to be fully secured, which we hope to do soon," Hasan Gafoor, the Mumbai police commissioner, said by telephone.

A young Jewish rabbi from Brooklyn N.Y., Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife Rivka, 28 were among the dead according to NDTV.

Earlier Friday the Oberoi-Trident Hotel was taken from the militants, but heavy fighting and explosions continue at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

Black-clad commandos exited Nariman House, an outreach center for the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch Jewish sect, with their thumbs up.

The crowd outside cheered assuming the operation was over, but police on the scene told ABC News it was still ongoing and there was at least one militant inside.

The commandos, known as the Black Cats, were dropped by helicopter on the rooftop of the apartment building, while others approached from the ground.

Snipers watched the building, poised.

Several militants exchanged gunfire with the troops and the building was rocked with a series of powerful explosions, witnesses said.

Troops were seen dangling what appears to be a mannequin over the side of the building in an apparent attempt to get the terrorists to reveal their whereabouts.

ABC News' Karen Russo reports from the scene, "Roofs in every direction are filled with hundreds of people watching the firefight - and cheering and clapping along with the explosions."

Crowds outside the Trident-Oberoi watched as hostages were freed.

Indian security forces say the Trident-Oberoi is safely in their hands, and that they have killed the two remaining militants there.

"The hotel is under our control," J.K. Dutt, director general of India's elite National Security Guard commando unit, told reporters.

Hundreds of people have been freed from both hotels, many rushed immediately into ambulances.

Survivors of the sieges reported seeing dead bodies in the hallways and lobbies.

Reuters news ageny quotes the Mumbai Chief of Police as saying so far 24 bodies have been found in the Trident Oberoi.

The death toll, which is expected to rise, now stands at 121, Mumbai police tell ABC News, among them eight foreigners. There are 279 injured, 22 of whom are foreigners according to the city's police control room.

Eleven of the assailants have been killed and several arrested, as well as 14 policemen, and 327 people were injured, among them three Americans, the Times of India reported, citing the Union Home Ministry.

A previously unknown group that calls itself Deccan Mujahideen has claimed it was behind the attacks, television channels reported on Thursday.

In an email the group allegedly sent to news organizations, Deccan Mujahideen cited attacks on Muslims in India as the reason for the assault.

"You should know that your acts are not at all left unnoticed; rather we are closely keeping an eye on you and just waiting for the right time to execute your bloodshed," the communique said.

The attacks have increased tension between India and Pakistan, which both have nuclear arms. It was "evident" that a "group based outside the country" carried out the attacks, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Thursday in an address to the nation.

He didn't elaborate, or name Pakistan, but he said India would "take up strongly with our neighbors that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated and that there will be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them."

Indian government sources told ABC News they believe the explosives arrived by boat. Investigators found a rubber boat with explosives in it just 100 feet from the Taj hotel.

The Indian Navy said its forces were boarding a cargo vessel suspected of ties to the attacks. Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said Thursday that the ship, the MV Alpha, had recently come to Mumbai from Karachi, Pakistan.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in New Delhi for peace talks, told the Dawn television station that nobody should be blamed until investigations were complete, AFP reported.

"Our experience in the past tells us that we should not jump to conclusions," Qureshi said.

Pakistan's Port and Shipping Minister Nabil Gabol said Indian authorities had not asked him for information about what he called a "false allegation" regarding the origin of the cargo ship suspected of transporting the militants.

British Foreign Minister, David Miliband, also urged caution in apportioning blame, "This is a rapidly evolving situation in which the facts are not yet clear," he told reporters.

The gunmen came prepared for a siege, officials said, even hauling in large bags of almonds to feed themselves during a long gunbattle.

"They have AK-47s and grenades. They have bags full of grenades and have come fully prepared," said Maj. Gen. R.K. Hooda. Vice-Admiral J.S. Bedi, a top naval officer.

Ratan Tata, who runs the company that owns the Taj Mahal, said they appeared to have scouted their targets in advance.

"They seem to know their way around the back office, the kitchen. There has been a considerable amount of detailed planning," he told a news conference.

Survivors told of chaos inside the hotels with the attacks erupting as many sat down to meals in the hotels' dining rooms. They described dead bodies in hallways, by the pool, of hiding behind tables covered with table cloths, of marble and sleek wooden floors streaked with blood.

Some were trapped by terrorists while others were trapped by the fires that burned out of control. Hotel customers were seen in their windows signaling desperately for rescue while others flicked their lights on and off in a distress signal.

One group described slinking downstairs, their shoes in their hands to muffle the noise and avoid alerting the terrorists.

"There is fear and paralysis in this part of the city, which is one of the commercial districts," ABC News' Nick Schifrin said from southern Mumbai. "Normally crowded and filled with traffic, the businesses are all shut and there are very few cars on the road. People are definitely staying inside."

The hostage situation played out after a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that paralyzed much of southern Mumbai.

Reportedly among those held captive were Americans, British, Italians, Swedes, Canadians, Yemenis, New Zealanders and a Singaporean.

"The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of terror by choosing high-profile targets," Prime Minister Singh today said in an address to the nation.

At least 10 different locations were hit in the series of coordinated attacks. Besides two of Mumbai's leading hotels, gunmen opened fire in the main train station, three hospitals and a cafe frequented by westerners.

Photos taken at Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station show scores of dead bodies lying on the terminal floor.

Witnesses at many of the locations reported that the gunmen, armed with AK-47 rifles and grenades, were between the ages of 20 and 25 years and were speaking in Hindi or Urdu.

Security camera footage of the militants show fresh-faced youths seemingly enjoying the mayhem they have unleashed.

From the Oberoi Hotel, one of the militants spoke to an Indian television channel.

"We want all mujahideens held in India released and only after that we will release the people," he said.

"Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?" he told the channel.

However, according to the Indian channel NDTV, the Indian Home Affairs Ministry says that no ransom demands have been made.

Rakesh Patel, who had escaped the Taj hotel Wednesday, told NDTV: "They had bombs, there was something, there was a lot of smoke, I guess there were bombs of some sort, yeah. They wanted anyone with British or American passports. Say anyone who had an American or British passports, they wanted to know, so I guess they were after foreigners, yeah, I guess," he said.

The hunt continues for those responsible. Times of India reports that, "Besides army commandos, naval commandos and Rapid Action force personnel joined in the operations to rescue those stranded in the two hotels. Five columns of Army and 200 NSG commandos have been rushed."

"We're going to catch them dead or alive," minister Patil told reporters. "An attack on Mumbai is an attack on India."

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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