Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai rocked by terror attacks, ATS chief, 80 Plus killed

Mumbai: Gunfire rang out as commandos and police laid siege to gunmen holding foreigners hostage in two of India’s plushest hotels in the country’s commercial capital on Thursday, after attacks that killed at least 86 people.
Scores of tourists remained trapped in the Taj Mahal hotel, a 105-year-old city landmark, and the five-star Trident Oberoi in Mumbai’s downtown peninsula, its financial and tourist heart.
Small groups of militants armed with automatic weapons and grenades burst into luxury hotels, a hospital and a railway station late on Wednesday, as well as an iconic cafe popular with foreign tourists, firing indiscriminately and tossing grenades.
They appeared to target British and Americans as they sought hostages before settling in for a prolonged siege.
Police said they had shot dead four gunmen and arrested nine suspects. They said 12 policemen were killed, including Hemant Karkare, the chief of the police anti-terrorist squad in Mumbai.
As dawn broke on the red, white and grey brick facade of the Taj on Mumbai’s waterfront, the hotel was surrounded by armed police, ambulances and fire engines, with intermittent firing heard, and flames and smoke still escaping from the roof.
At least two guests, trapped in their rooms in the Taj, phoned TV stations. One said the firedoors were locked, another said he had seen two dead bodies by the swimming pool.
India has suffered a wave of bomb attacks in recent years. Most have been blamed on Islamist militants, although police have also suspected Hindu extremists of carrying out some bombings.
The latest attacks came amid a slew of state elections, including in Kashmir, and could be an embarrassment for the ruling Congress party ahead of national elections next year, as well as potentially destabilising for the country.
In Mumbai, officials admitted the battle was not yet over.
“The situation is still not under control and we are trying to flush out any more terrorists hiding inside the two hotels,” said Vilasrao Deshmukh, Maharashtra state chief minister.
A Maharashtra state official later told CNN that police had brought the situation under control.
The Mumbai attacks are also bound to spook investors in one of Asia’s largest and fastest-growing economies. Mumbai has seen several major bomb attacks in the past, but never anything so obviously targeted at foreigners.
“I guess they were after foreigners, because they were asking for British or American passports,” said Rakesh Patel, a British witness who lives in Hong Kong and was staying at the Taj Mahal hotel on business. “They had bombs.”
“They came from the restaurant and took us up the stairs,” he told the NDTV channel, smoke stains covering his face. “Young boys, maybe 20 years old, 25 years old. They had two guns.”
Japan’s foreign ministry said at least one Japanese national had been killed and one injured in the attacks, while South Korea said 26 of its nationals had escaped unharmed.
Police said at least 250 people were wounded in the attacks which also targeted the Cafe Leopold, perhaps the most famous restaurant and hang-out for tourists in the city and is featured in the bestselling novel Shantaram.
An organisation calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen said it was behind the attacks, television channels said. The previously little known group sent an email to news organisations claiming responsibility.
Several hundred people had been evacuated from the Taj hotel, one witness said, but many more remained inside, some calling for help from the fifth floor. Firefighters broke windows to reach some trapped guests.

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