Commandos set to end terror drama in Mumbai, 143 dead (Evening Lead)

November 28th, 2008 - 9:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghMumbai, Nov 28 (IANS) Indian commandos Friday evening battled the last of terrorists still holed up at the landmark Taj hotel after taking control of another luxury hotel and an apartment complex as the death toll in the country’s longest running hostage saga was put at 143, including at least eight foreigners.Even as all surviving hostages from the three buildings finally walked free, traumatised by two days of naked terror, India identified the only terrorist to be captured as a Pakistani national while Islamabad denied any involvement and denounced the audacious terror strike.

J.K. Dutt, head of the National Security Guard (NSG), whose elite commandos were airdropped over the Nariman House Friday, announced in the evening that the terrorists had murdered five of the eight hostages they were holding. He said the commandos had in turn killed two terrorists.

Amongst those who had been 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. It was not known who had been killed.

As about 100 commandos cleared the building of terrorists, thousands of people came on to the streets shouting slogans hailing the security forces. Policemen hurriedly asked people to disperse saying the danger was not yet over; there was one more floor yet to be cleared.

In an unprecedented development, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani to send his country’s spy chief to New Delhi to exchange information about the Mumbai terror, official sources said.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the terrorists had links with Pakistan, but declined to give details. He also denied that India had taken help from US intelligence agencies to probe the terror attack.

Indian authorities have said that the terrorists, who dramatically struck at 10 places in Mumbai Wednesday night and eventually took control of the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels and the Nariman House, had sailed to Mumbai from Pakistan.

All through Friday, gunfire and explosions rattled all three besieged sites - the seafront Taj hotel, the nearby Oberoi-Trident hotel as well as the Nariman House - as commandos went from floor to floor and from room to room hunting for terrorists and hostages.

Intermittently, massive explosions rocked the Taj hotel, causing fires.

By Friday evening, almost 48 hours after the terrorist strike began, Indian cabinet minister Kapil Sibal admitted that the government had never imagined such a massive terrorist attack could ever take place.

“We never imagined that this sort of infiltration will take place in such a meticulous fashion,” he told reporters. “There must be accountability at all levels.”

The first building to come in the control of commandos was the Oberoi Trident hotel, where a home ministry official said the police had found 24 bodies, taking the death toll in that place to 30.

As Mumbai strove for normalcy with schools and offices opening, the posh southern part of the city resembled a war zone for much of the day. Indian officials had insisted that Mumbai’s trauma would end by Friday night.

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 some guests were 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, said at least one terrorist still remained inside the Taj hotel.

“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 he 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,” the officer added.

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

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