Commandos set to evict militants from Mumbai’s Taj hotel (Lead)

November 29th, 2008 - 7:44 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Nov 29 (IANS) Elite Indian commandos were Saturday set for their final thrust against a group of militants holed up in the iconic Taj hotel here as the country’s longest terror drama killed 148 people and cast a shadow on India-Pakistan relations.After a comparative lull of two hours a fierce gun battle erupted around 3.30 a.m. Saturday as commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG) targeted the militants, who had seized the hotel Wednesday night in coordinated strikes that also saw them taking over the Oberoi-Trident hotel and a Jewish cultural and religious centre.

A group of six to seven strategically positioned commandos targeted a first-floor window at the northern end of the building where, eyewitnesses said, at lest one militant had been cornered.

Other commandos, meanwhile, sprinted toward a corridor linking the new tower of the hotel with its heritage wing where the action was taking place to gain access to the first floor and mount pressure on the militants.

There was, however, some uncertainty on the exact number of militants in the hotel.

On Friday, Lt. Gen. Noble Thamburaj, the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Southern Command, had placed the number at one, after two others had been killed in a firefight Thursday. NSG chief J.K. Dutt initially agreed with this but Saturday revised the figure to two or three.

M.L. Kumwat, the special secretary (Internal Security) in the home ministry, had Friday placed the number at six.

Landing by boat in the Colaba area of south Mumbai, a group of 20-22 militants had spread mayhem in Mumbai, staging 10 attacks at various spots in India’s commercial capital that have killed 148 people and injured 327. The casualties include eight foreigners, while another 22 have been injured.

The NSG, acting in tandem with their Marco marine commandos and Indian Army troops had Friday scored major successes, evicting the militants first from the Oberoi-Trident hotel and then from the Jewish centre. Two militants were killed in each operation.

Totally, 11 of the militants have so far been killed, while one has been captured. The whereabouts of the others are not clear.

Close to 480 NSG commandos had participated in the operation at the Jewish centre and the bulk of them were shifted to the Taj hotel once that operation ended.

Both were expected to quickly go into action as both Thamburaj and Dutt had Friday promised that the Taj would be rid of the remaining terrorists by evening. However, as the shadows lengthened, it became apparent that the NSG chief was carefully weighing all his options.

“My men have taken position, but if the terrorists change their positions, we too have to,” he explained late Friday after reconnoitring the Taj hotel complex.

“My officers and men are coping well with the situation,” he added.

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. Pakistan agreed.

Officials in Islamabad initially said Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, was expected to travel to India early next week.

However, a report in a Pakistani newspaper Saturday said Pasha’s representative would instead travel to New Delhi.

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