Mumbai hostage crisis heads for dramatic finish; commandos airdropped (Second Lead)

November 28th, 2008 - 10:04 am ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Nov 28 (IANS) Thirty-three hours after it began, a hostage crisis seemed headed for its final denouement here as Indian special forces Friday morning dramatically slithered down ropes from two military helicopters to the roof of a five-storey building to flush out terrorists holed up there.On the ground, some 100 other commandos massed in the lane leading to the Nariman House - known among Israelis as Chabad House - one of the three buildings seized by the terrorists Wednesday night, and on adjacent rooftops provided covering fire in what seemed to the final decisive stage of the operation.

The first of the choppers arrived overhead at around 7.30 a.m. and some six commandos, their ankles gripping the rope, slithered down to the roof of Nariman House with one hand, balancing their AK-56 assault rifles in the other.

A second helicopter arrived soon thereafter with another six commandos.

The force initially assembled on the roof of Nariman House before storming the building, where it is believed some six to eight hostages are still being held.

With the helicopters whirring protectively overhead, gunfire and explosions were heard as the commandos moved down the building.

Nariman House is a Jewish religious and residential complex and was one of three buildings the terrorists seized Wednesday night.

Other commandos also fanned through the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel and the Oberoi-Trident hotel to sanitise them room by room and floor by floor before sounding the all-clear, which officials said, could still be a while away.

At least 125 people have been killed and 327 injured in India’s longest hostage crisis that has been likened to the country’s 9/11.

Gunshots erupted from the Nariman House around 7 a.m. as the commandos on the ground were taking position. A second round of firing was heard about 15 minutes later.

As the operation progressed, the authorities pushed back TV news channel crews from the scene, banning them from beaming live pictures from the scene. The position, however, changed as an Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter arrived on the scene with the commandos.

Earlier, three explosions were heard at the Nariman House. Two explosions followed in quick succession around 2.30 a.m. and a third was heard just before 5 a.m., even as snipers were moving in on the ground.

Eyewitnesses at the site said it was surprising that there was no retaliatory fire from the terrorists as the hostages were being brought out but the explosions occurred much later.

The Bombay Stock Exchange was likely to reopen Friday after being closed Thursday as the authorities struggled to cope with India’s longest hostage drama that has been likened to this country’s 9/11.

Malls, cinema halls and schools will, however, remain shut for the second day Friday.

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