Question of Foreign Role Fills Air as Gunfire Quiets in Mumbai
Indian forces kill last three assailants at Taj Mahal hotel in raid at dawn.
MUMBAI, India Nov. 29, 2008 — -- It began with scattered gunshots in a crowded train station on a weekday evening, at about 9:20 p.m. Minutes later it was more gunshots, at other locations, and then explosions -- at two luxury hotels, a chic cafe popular with foreigners, a hospital, a Jewish center.
By dawn on Saturday, after 60 hours of gunfire, daring hostage rescues and moments of eerily suspended action, Indian forces had brought the terror attack in Mumbai to an end, cornering what they say were the final three assailants in one of the hotels, the Taj Mahal, and shooting them dead.
As the smoke cleared, the death toll, which was expected to climb after searches of the two hotels, stood at 195, including 18 foreigners, six of them Americans. An estimated 295 people were wounded in the violence, which played out in highly coordinated attacks at 10 sites around the financial and tourist capital.
Rushing to fill the sudden silence was speculation, on the part of citizens and, more guardedly, of some Indian government officials, of a possible foreign role in the assault -- speculation fueled by the government's announcement that the one fighter to be captured was a Pakistani national named Mohammad Ajmal Qasam.
"We are interrogating him," Maharshta state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told reporters.
Indian security sources said today that a total of 10 fighters of unknown nationality had executed the Mumbai attacks, the deadliest in the country since a series of bombings in 1993 killed 257. The other nine assailants were killed in the fighting.
Leaders around the world called for a full investigation of the attacks before any conclusions were drawn about the motivation, funding or allegiance of the assailants. The group that claimed responsibility for the assault, the Deccan Mujahideen, was previously unknown.
Pakistan has denied any role in the attack, despite implications to the contrary on the part of some Indian officials, including Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who told reporters Friday that evidence indicated "some elements in Pakistan are responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks."
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted his country was not involved.
Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview with "Good Morning America" that he took Gilani at his word.
"This was not something I would expect that, in any way, was authorized by the Pakistani government," Haas said. "But a lot goes on in Pakistan that's out of the control of this government. It seems to be that sort of a case.
"India, then, it doesn't make sense to retaliate against Pakistan. The government, again, was probably not behind it. Though, there will be a lot of pressure in India to do so. This is probably the most dangerous bilateral relationship in the world. Between India and Pakistan. Two nuclear powers who basically have an extremely limited relationship, if that. For the United States, it's bad news."
U.S. President George W. Bush spoke on the crisis from the south lawn of the White House shortly after noon.
"The killers who struck this week are brutal and violent," Bush said. "But terror will not have the final word. The people of India are resilient. The people of India are strong."
The president said he had been closely monitoring developments in India.
"We pledge the full support of the United States as India investigates these attacks, brings the guilty to justice and sustains its democratic way of life," he said.
Bush spent Thanksgiving at the presidential retreat of Camp David.
Names of Americans wounded in the attacks had not been released.
"The [U.S.] Consulate in Mumbai will continue to work with the Indian Police until all missing American citizens have been accounted for," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told ABC News. "Our Consulate General in Mumbai is working to identify and assist American citizens who are victims of the attacks."
Fighting Draws to a Close
The fighting came to an end at the Trident-Oberoi Hotel and a Jewish outreach center, but firing continued into Saturday at the sprawling Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
The most dramatic conclusion came Friday at Chabad House, the Jewish center, with troops rappeling onto the roof from helicopters and the building being peppered with grenades as residents crowded surrounding rooftops to cheer on the attack.
At one point troops were seen dangling what appeared to be a mannequin over the side of the building in an apparent attempt to get the terrorists to reveal themselves.
Despite the blasts, militants inside continued to fire intensely at the advancing troops, until a huge blast rocked the building. The explosion was so powerful that debris flew off the sides of the building.
A few more shots were exchanged before the building went quiet and searchlights could be seen moving through the house. People streamed into the streets singing.
The Indian government reported, however, that five hostages inside the building had died. Among the dead was American rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivka.
A cook for the center had escaped earlier with the couple's 2-year-old son. The boy was unhurt, but his clothing was covered in blood.
The militants, believed to number about 20 to 25, surged into Mumbai's fashionable downtown district on Wednesday firing indiscriminately into hospitals, a train station, a cafe and other sites before taking hostages and preparing for a fight to the death in the two hotels and the Chabad center.
An Indian commando who fought them said the fighters were young men who were ruthless.
"They were the type of people with no remorse. Anybody and whosoever was in front of them, they fired," the commando told a news conference.
Fighting continued into Saturday the Taj hotel despite officials having twice in recent days declared it to be under the control of government troops. The troops blasted a third-floor window with a rocket-propelled grenade. Debris from the blasts showered crowds outside, wounding several bystanders.
At the Trident-Oberoi, the fighting ended after Indian troops claimed they killed the final two attackers who had taken over the hotel, killing staff and tourists and setting the building on fire.
"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 the two hotels, many rushed immediately into ambulances. Survivors reported seeing dead bodies in the hallways and lobbies.
In an e-mail the group 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.