Terror ordeal continues in Mumbai; 101 killed, hundreds remain trapped (Evening Roundup)

November 27th, 2008 - 9:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghMumbai, Nov 27 (IANS) Twenty hours and counting. As darkness settled over India’s financial capital Thursday, the brazen terror strike that had started the night before and already killed 101 people continued well into the night with gunfire raging as commandos fought to free the scores of people still held hostage. The toll - from Wednesday night when armed men had sneaked into Mumbai on boat till Thursday evening - was 101 killed, including three of Mumbai’s best known police officers and six foreigners, and 287 injured. The foreigners’ identity or their nationalities were not known.

Flames were seen leaping out of the iconic Taj hotel opposite the Gateway of India, as well as the Oberoi Trident hotel, facing the waterfront of the Arabia Sea, where the terrorists had alighted. Many hostages were still trapped inside the Oberoi Trident and Nariman Bhavan in prized south Mumbai.

Terrorists had begun their siege of the city around 9.30 p.m. Wednesday when they fanned out to 10 places in a meticulously planned operation — nine in south Mumbai including the busy Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and one in the suburb of Vile Parle.

In the capital New Delhi, a grim Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the nation and said: “It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with a single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country.”

“We will take up strongly with our neighbours that the use of their territory for launching attacks on us will not be tolerated and that there would be a cost if suitable measures are not taken by them.”

Over 200 Indian commandos from the elite National Security Guard, the army and the navy as well as the riot police took position outside the three key buildings under attack in south Mumbai — the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, the Oberoi Trident and the Nariman Bhavan in Nariman Point.

As they prepared for the final onslaught, fire broke out in a fourth floor room at the Taj and more than nine gunshots were heard in a quick succession. At least three more grenade explosions rocked the Taj hotel, one of Mumbai’s most identifiable landmarks whose 105-year-old heritage building was extensively damaged.

At the Oberoi, people could be seen waving desperately from the picture windows as tongues of orange flame burst forth.

Giving an idea of the numbers involved, Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh said 20-22 terrorists had struck Wednesday night. Of them, seven had been killed but the rest remained holed up inside. One of them was caught alive and was being interrogated by security and intelligence officials.

He said there had been “no negotiations” with the terrorists.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Ghafoor said AK-47 and AK-56 and semi-automatic rifles besides grenades were used in the “coordinated terrorist acts”.

TV grabs showed that some of the terrorists were young, trendily dressed in jeans and T shirts and carrying rucksacks.

One of them, calling himself Shahadullah, telephoned India TV channel to say he was from Hyderabad and belonged to a previously unheard of group called the Deccan Mujahideen.

Speaking in Hindustani with an accent, the man said the attack had been carried out to avenge the 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya and the “repression” of Muslims in India. He said the hostages would be freed only in exchange for the “mujahideen” in Indian prisons.

“It’s a motivated, well planned terrorist attack and they are out to cause damage,” added Major General R.K. Hooda of the Indian Army.

The well-planned terrorist onslaught, which caught the authorities unawares although Home Minister Shivraj Patil had warned of a possible sea strike two years ago.

A stunned international community condemned the wanton killings. US president-elect Barack Obama asked Washington to work with India to root out and destroy terrorist networks worldwide. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Such violence is totally unacceptable.” The European Union also denounced the terrorists.

But in Chandigarh, Pakistan Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi denounced the killings as “barbaric”. He said Islamabad had faced similar situations and it would be immature to link the attack to his country.

With naval commandos joining the anti-terrorist operation, Vice Admiral J.S. Bedi said in Mumbai: “There are four to five terrorists in the Oberoi hotel area and 40-50 hostages. However, we can’t confirm that the hostages are all guests at the hotel.”

The comments came as the security forces managed to nab one of the terrorists and the Coast Guard chased a mysterious vessel in the sea near Mumbai.

The survivor stories were plenty.

Indian Communist MP N.N. Krishnadas said after being rescued by commandos Thursday: “I was having dinner with some colleagues when two masked militants barged into the restaurant. They fired indiscriminately. I saw three people being shot. The terrorists left the room soon after.”

The authorities ordered a holiday in Mumbai, but the otherwise bustling city remained on the edge as terror reigned. The Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange were also closed.

On Thursday, a five-kilometre radius in south Mumbai, including the business districts of Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point, was cordoned off.

Train services resumed but there were few passengers.

The Mumbai nightmare may continue for a while. Fears are that the hotels and other premises might still be booby trapped.

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