Terror denouement begins as Oberoi cleared, Pranab points to Pakistan (Afternoon Lead)

November 28th, 2008 - 4:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghMumbai, Nov 28 (IANS) Gunfire crackled and explosions rocked south Mumbai Friday as Indian commandos launched a final assault against terrorists who continued their hold on the Taj and the Nariman House, 40 hours after they began their bloody siege that has already killed 125 people. The Oberoi Trident, officials said, was in their command.External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the terrorists had links with Pakistan but said he could not give any details because investigations were still on.

He said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would be speaking to President Asif Ali Zardari.

As Mumbai strove for normalcy with schools and offices opening, the posh southern part of the city resembled a war zone with some shell-shocked hostages being rescued, an unspecified number still trapped by terrorists and Indian commandos closing in — hoping to end the terror siege that began Wednesday night when heavily armed men targeted 10 sites in Mumbai.

National Security Guard (NSG) chief J.K. Dutt said the Oberoi Trident had been cleared and both the terrorists inside had been killed.

Earlier, scores of people had been evacuated and rushed to Bombay Hospital in private buses for a precautionary medical check up after their trauma.

Indian marine commandos who battled terrorists at the Taj hotel, just across the road from the Gateway of India where terrorists had alighted from a boat to begin their mayhem, said the gunmen were remorseless and very well trained.

“Definitely they were trained. Not everybody can fire AK series weapons. Using such weapons and explosives, it is obvious they were trained somewhere,” said a masked officer of the force.

“These people were very, very familiar with the hotel layout. It appeared that they had carried out a survey (of the hotel) before. And they were very determined. Remorseless.”

The officer said he and his colleagues saw several bodies inside the hotel and also some guests seriously wounded.

Lt. Gen. Noble Thamburaj, the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Southern Command who is coordinating the Indian Army’s operations with the NSG, marine commandos and the Mumbai police, did not lay down a timeline but was hopeful of wrapping up the Taj operation soon.

Though “almost all guests and staff” (of the new wing of the Taj) had been evacuated, one terrorist was still inside.

“He is moving in two floors. There is a dance floor, where he has cut off the lights and made the area dark,” Thamburaj said, adding that the terrorist was possibly holding two hostages.

“This morning, we heard the sound of a lady and a gentleman, so it is possible there are two or more hostages. It is possible there is more than one terrorist. From the gunfire, one is confirmed but there could be two,” the officer added.

The drama at the Nariman House Jewish centre in Colaba was telecast live for millions of disbelieving viewers who watched commandos being lowered down on the roof of the five-storey building where an unspecified number of people remained hostage.

About 100 commandos positioned on the roads around the building.

Defence analyst Mahroof Raza said: “It’s a cat-and-mouse game and depends on how long it takes to wear down the terrorists.”

Amongst those trapped inside were the Rabbi of the centre Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife Rivka and six others. The couple’s two-year-old son and a staff member at the centre had managed to escape the building.

Sandra Samuel, 44, the cook who pulled the boy out the building, said she saw Rabbi Holzberg, his wife Rivka and two other unidentified guests lying on the floor, apparently “unconscious”.

As the terror attack showed no signs of ending and the nation stood on edge, security forces advised the electronic media to refrain from airing live footage of the anti-terror operations.

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