Explosions rock terrorist-held building as commandos move in (Lead)

November 28th, 2008 - 2:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Nov 28 (IANS) Three powerful explosions rocked a five-storey building in which terrorists have been holding an unspecified number of hostages for more than 39 hours, even as special forces commandos conducted a “top-down” operation Friday by slithering down ropes from two helicopters to the roof of the structure.The explosions came in quick succession around 12.15 p.m. and were interspersed with automatic fire from both sides. The explosions saw thick white smoke billowing out of the Nariman House in Colaba that is home to a Jewish religious and cultural centre.

Officials said the terrorists, who were holed up on the third floor, might have set off the blasts in desperation as the commandos who had landed on the roof attempted to link up with their comrades who were attempting to enter the building from the ground floor.

Ambulances were parked in the lane leading to Nariman House to immediately transport out any casualties that might occur, an official said.

Fire trucks were also positioned in case the building went up in flames either due to the terrorists’ fire or in “friendly” fire, the official added.

“We term it a ‘top-down’ operation. It requires a great deal of skill on the part of the helicopter pilot as he has to keep the machine steady at one spot to enable the commandos slither down,” Indian Air Force (IAF) spokesperson Wing Commander Mahesh Upasni said.

Travelling on two IAF Mi-8 helicopters, between eight to 10 National Security Guard (NSG) slid down to the roof of the Nariman House, one of the three buildings along with the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel opposite the Gateway of India and the Oberoi Trident the terrorists seized in coordinated attacks Wednesday.

“Due to the high voltage wires in the vicinity of the building, it becomes extremely difficult to manoeuvre and remain steady at one spot but the pilots managed this very well,” Upasni explained.

The commandos then switched to the “observe and fire” mode and assisting them in this were other commandos stationed on the rooftops on buildings around Nariman House.

Simultaneously, some 100 commandos positioned on the roads around the building attempted to make their way up the building to the third floor.

Defence analyst Maroof Raza, however, refused to speculate on how long the operation would last.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game and depends on how long it takes to wear down the terrorists,” he explained.

“Simultaneously, there would be utmost care to prevent collateral damage (ensuring the hostages are not harmed),” Raza added.

At least 125 people, including 14 policemen, have been killed and 327 injured in the terror strike that began around 9.30 p.m. Wednesday.

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