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.

Attacks Increase Tension Between India and Pakistan

The attacks have increased tension between India and Pakistan, both nuclear states which have fought two wars with each other. 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.

Singh 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."

In an effort to defuse tension, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari called Singh to say he was "appalled and shocked" by the slaughter and would cooperate with India to track down the masterminds of the attacks.

In addition, the director of Pakistan's powerful intelligence agency will go to India to help investigate, Pakistan announced.

Britain's security services are working "intensively" with Indian authorities to determine whether several of the attackers were British citizens with ties to India or the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. "It's too early to say whether or not any of them are British," said Britain's Foreign Secretary David Milliband.

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 boarded 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.

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.

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

Gunmen Seemed to Enjoy the Mayhem

"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.

Bobbie Garvey, a spokewoman for the Synchronicity Foundation, said 25 members of their meditation group were in the Trident-Oberoi. Two were killed and four wounded. The others were barricaded in their rooms with mattresses and bureaus pushed up against their hotel room doors.

She said they spent three days in terror. "They didn't know if that door would open at any time and it would be someone to save them or someone to take them out," Garvey said.

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

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 had unleashed.

At least 10 different locations were hit in the series of coordinated attacks, and while the vast majority of the dead were Indians, some reports said the assailants tried to single out Westerners, particularly Americans and Britons.

At the Trident-Oberoi, survivor Rakesh Patel told NDTV, "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."

The reason for the attack was unclear. One of the militants called an Indian TV station from the Trident-Oberoi to demand that mujahideen prisoners be released.

"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.

ABC News' Nick Watt, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.