Friday, November 28, 2008
Attack on Mumbai finally crushed..
Siege over at Taj hotel in Mumbai More than 150 people die after gunmen attack 10 sites across Mumbai The Associated Press updated 10:33 p.m. ET, Fri., Nov. 28, 2008 MUMBAI, India - Police said the siege at the Taj Mahal hotel is over, bringing an end to three days of terror in Mumbai in which more than 150 people were killed. Mumbai Police Chief Hasan Ghafoor told The Associated Press that "The Taj operation is over. The last two terrorist holed up there have been killed." Commandos were seen milling around in front of the hotel and, for the first time, fire engines and ambulances openly pulled up to the entrance. Assailants began their attack Wednesday, striking 10 sites across India's financial capital. Fifteen foreigners were among the dead. Earlier Saturday, Indian forces had been targeting the landmark Taj Mahal hotel with grenades and gunfire as suspected Muslim militants made a last stand, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish outreach center and found six hostages dead. The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their newly orphaned son, Moshe, who turns 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building. Authorities scrambled to identify those responsible for the unprecedented attack, with Indian officials pointing across the border at rival Pakistan, and Pakistani leaders promising to cooperate in the investigation. A team of FBI agents was ordered to fly to India to investigate the attacks. Fighting stretches into third day With the fighting stretching into a third day, commandos killed the last two gunmen inside the luxury Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said. Dozens of people — including a man clutching a baby and about 20 airline crew members — were evacuated from the Oberoi earlier Friday. "I'm going home. I'm going to see my wife," said Mark Abell, a Briton who had locked himself in his room during the siege. The Taj Mahal hotel was wracked by hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions that continued into Saturday morning, even though authorities said earlier that they had cleared it of gunmen. Indian forces kept up a counterattack with grenades and trading gunfire with what authorities believed was one or perhaps two militants holed up in the ballroom. TV images showed shattered windows on the building's first floor. CNN reported the government had cut off their live transmissions from the scene in Mumbai. Authorities have asked not to show live broadcasts of the battle because they believe the gunmen were monitoring the news. Most channels largely obliged. The capture of the hotel would mark the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India's history. Counterstrikes by Indian forces By Friday evening, at least nine gunmen had been killed and one arrested, said R. Patil, a top official in Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is the capital. In the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday morning, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center as snipers laid down cover fire. For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch. The assault blew huge holes in the center, and, at one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building. Soon after, elated commandos ran outside with their rifles raised over their heads in a sign of triumph. But inside the Chabad House was a scene of tragedy. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 1 TV that the bodies of three women and three men were found at the center. Some of the victims had been bound, Barak said. "All in all, it was a difficult spectacle," he said. Local media reports, quoting top military officials, said two gunmen were found dead in the building. Gathering place for Israeli tourists Chabad Lubavitch is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group that runs outreach centers in far-flung areas of the globe. The center in Mumbai served as a synagogue and cultural center for crowds of Israeli tourists and the small local Jewish community, the group said. Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, said the dead Americans at the Jewish center were Holtzberg; Bentzion Chroman, an Israeli with dual U.S. citizenship; and Leibish Teitlebaum, an American from Brooklyn. Holtzberg's wife was an Israeli citizen. Two other U.S. victims of the attack, from a Virginia community that promotes a form of meditation, were identified Friday as Alan Scherr, 58, and daughter Naomi, 13, of Faber, Va. They were killed in a cafe Wednesday night at the Oberoi, said Bobbie Garvey, a spokeswoman for the Synchronicity Foundation. The other dead were from Australia, France, Italy, Canada, Japan, Germany, Singapore and a dual British-Cypriot citizen. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the attackers clearly singled out Jewish and Western targets. "Our world is under attack. It doesn't matter whether it happens in India or somewhere else," she said. "There are Islamic extremists who don't accept our existence or Western values." Well-armed, well-prepared The gunmen were well-prepared, apparently scouting some targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack they found contained 400 rounds of ammunition. The gunmen moved skillfully through the blood-slickened corridors of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, switching off lights to confuse the commandos. The militants were "very determined," said an unidentified member of India's Marine Commando unit, his face wrapped in a black mask. Andreina Varagona of Nashville, Tenn., who was shot in the right leg and right arm while dining in the Oberoi hotel, said there was almost no time to escape. "Within two minutes, they were on us," she said, adding that about a dozen bodies fell to the floor. She dragged herself past the dead and into the restaurant kitchen, where employees were huddled for safety. They picked her up, she said, and carried her out. Who's to blame for attacks? Meanwhile, authorities were working to find out who was behind the attacks, claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen. President George W. Bush said the U.S. was working with India and other nations to uncover who was responsible. An FBI team was heading to India to help with the investigation, U.S. officials said. "My administration has been working with the Indian government and the international community as Indian authorities work to ensure the safety of those still under threat," Bush said in a statement. President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation, and declared that the terrorists "will not defeat India's great democracy." Pakistani 'elements' blamed India's foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said Friday that "elements in Pakistan" were to blame but gave no detailed information. Indian officials have alleged that some of the explosives and ammunitions used in the deadly attacks that have killed more than 150 people appeared to have come from the Pakistani port city of Karachi — a known hotbed of militant activity. Pakistani officials, however, have said there is no clear evidence yet to support the claim. The head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency was traveling to India to work with his Indian counterparts and examine existing evidence. India has long accused Islamabad of allowing militant Muslim groups, particularly those fighting in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, to train and take shelter in Pakistan. Mukherjee's carefully phrased comments appeared to indicate he was accusing Pakistan-based groups of staging the attack, and not the Pakistan government itself. Islamabad has long denied those accusations. Earlier Friday, Pakistan's Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar denied involvement by his country, saying that "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents." Indian Home Minister Jaiprakash Jaiswal said a captured gunmen had been identified as a Pakistani and Patil, the Maharashtra state official, said: "It is very clear that the terrorists are from Pakistan. We have enough evidence that they are from Pakistan." Neither provided further details. British citizens involved in attacks? The British government is investigating whether some of the attackers in the deadly India shootings could be British citizens with links to Pakistan or the disputed territory of Kashmir but there was no such evidence yet, officials said. Earlier reports alleged that at least one of the gunmen could have been a British-born Pakistani. But a Foreign Office spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with the department policy, said Friday that none of the attackers identified so far was British. "Our deputy high commissioner in Mumbai has spoken to the Indian authorities who have said that there is no evidence that anyone, either those shot, or those detained, are British," the Foreign Office spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Friday. The gunmen were well-prepared, apparently scouting some targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy. "It's obvious they were trained somewhere ... Not everyone can handle the AK series of weapons or throw grenades like that," an unidentified member of India's Marine Commando unit told reporters, his face wrapped in a black mask. He said the men were "very determined and remorseless" and ready for a long siege. One backpack they found had 400 rounds of ammunition inside. He said the Taj was filled with terrified civilians, making it very difficult for the commandos to fire on the gunmen. "To try and avoid civilian casualties we had to be so much more careful," he said, adding that the hotel was a grim sight. "Bodies were strewn all over the place, and there was blood everywhere." U.S. team heads to Mumbai A U.S. investigative team was heading to Mumbai, a State Department official said Thursday. Pakistan’s government said Friday that it will send its spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, to India to help probe the attacks. India has been shaken repeatedly by terror attacks blamed on Muslim militants in recent years, but most were bombings striking crowded places: markets, street corners, parks. Mumbai — one of the most populated cities in the world with some 18 million people — was hit by a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people. These attacks were more sophisticated — and more brazen. They began at about 9:20 p.m. with shooters spraying gunfire across the Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station, one of the world's busiest terminals. For the next two hours, there was an attack roughly every 15 minutes — the Jewish center, a tourist restaurant, one hotel, then another, and two attacks on hospitals. There were 10 targets in all.