Commandos battle to regain Mumbai: Blame game begins, allegations levelled against Pakistan; death toll put at 119 with over 300 injured
MUMBAI, Nov 27: As commandos of India’s elite anti-terrorism force, the National Security Guard (NSG), were engaged in fierce battles with terrorists at some places till late Thursday night, officials claimed that terrorists had been flushed out from the five-star Taj Hotel, one of the landmarks of the country’s financial and commercial capital.
The commandos who went into action immediately after the city was attacked on Wednesday night, were engaged in clashes with the terrorists holed up in the Taj, another five-star hotel, Oberoi-Trident, and a synagogue-cum-Jewish education centre, all located in south Mumbai.
The terrorists, whose identity is still not known, although one of them told a TV channel that they belonged to the so far unknown Deccan Mujahideen, launched the audacious attack, firing indiscriminately from their AK-47 rifles at about half a dozen places.
The toll was put at 119 at Thursday midnight with about 300 people having been injured. The dead included about 15 policemen, including two top officers, 10 foreigners and seven terrorists.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said that about 25 terrorists were suspected to be involved in the attack on the mage-city, which was virtually crippled on Thursday with government and private offices, banks, schools, colleges and other establishments remaining closed. Stock markets also remained shut.
NSG commandos began hunting the terrorists who had occupied the Taj Mahal Hotel and Oberoi-Trident Hotel in south Mumbai, besides Nariman Bhavan, which houses a Jewish study centre and also serves as a synagogue. About seven militants had occupied the five-storeyed residential building on Wednesday, holding an Israeli rabbi, his wife and child as hostage. The local head office of the orthodox Jewish group, Chabad-Lubavitch, is popular among Israeli tourists visiting India, and many of them stay there for a few weeks.
When the commandos planned to launch an attack on the building, one of the terrorists panicked and tried to escape to an adjoining building. But he fell, got injured and later died. However, the remaining six terrorists continued firing at the commandos, delaying their entry into the building.
The commandos were successful at the Taj Mahal Hotel, where all the hostages were rescued and most of the guests were evacuated.
According to A.N. Roy, Maharashtra’s police chief, there were no more hostages at the Taj Mahal Hotel, though about two or three terrorists were still there in one of the rooms.
But at the Oberoi-Trident Hotel, there were about 40 hostages being held by nearly a dozen terrorists. Another 200 guests were also stranded in the high-rise hotel, adding to the problems of the NSG commandos.
According to an Indian Navy spokesman, about two dozen terrorists had landed in Mumbai after travelling in a merchant vessel, the MV Alpha, from Karachi. The Indian Navy intercepted the vessel on Thursday. The Navy spokesman said that further probe was under way.
Police sources say the terrorists landed in rubber boats near the Gateway of India and headed straight for the half a dozen destinations, armed heavily with weapons and explosives. They even commandeered two police vehicles, firing indiscriminately on the way.
Agencies add: Indian security forces arrested three militants, including a Pakistani national, inside the Taj Mahal hotel, the Press Trust of India news agency reported early Friday.Quoting official sources, the agency report identified the Pakistani national as Ajmal Amir Kamal, a resident of Faridkot, Multan. It also said the militants were members of Lashkar-i-Taiba -- a Pakistan-based group best known for an assault on the Indian parliament in 2001.
The report said the Pakistani detainee told Indian investigators that the group of 12 militants had been dropped off by a merchant vessel 10 nautical miles outside Indian waters, and had reached Mumbai in a small speedboat.
Helicopters buzzed overhead and crowds cheered as the commandos, their faces blackened, moved into the Trident-Oberoi, where 20 to 30 people were thought to have been taken hostage and more than 100 others were trapped in their rooms. Huge flames billowed from an upper floor.
Dipak Dutta told NDTV news after being rescued that he had been told by troops escorting him through the corridors not to look down at any of the bodies. “A lot of chef trainees were massacred in the kitchen.”
Security officials said that seven hostages had been rescued from the Jewish complex. But an Israeli diplomat said that those freed had come from “other buildings” and that there remained an uncertain number of people still trapped in the Jewish centre.
“We’ve recovered seven hostages from the complex. Sweeping operations are ongoing,” a security told reporters outside the complex.
A militant holed up at the complex phoned an Indian television channel to offer talks with the government for the release of hostages, but also to complain about abuses in Kashmir.
“Ask the government to talk to us and we will release the hostages,” the man, identified by the TV channel as Imran, said.
“Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims? Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?”
Australian actress Brooke Satchwell, who starred in the Neighbours television soap opera, said she narrowly escaped the gunmen by hiding in a hotel bathroom cupboard.
“There were people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom,” the shaken actress told Australian television. “The next thing I knew I was running down the stairs and there were a couple of dead bodies across the stairs. It was chaos.”
“We threw ourselves down under the reception counter,” Esperanza Aguirre, head of Madrid’s regional government, said.
“I took off my shoes and we left being pushed along by the hotel staff,” she said.
“I didn’t see any terrorists or injured people. I just saw the blood I had to walk through barefoot.”