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Indian Commandos Battle Assailants

After a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks turned parts of Mumbai's financial district into a combat zone, officials in New Delhi, India, and Islamabad, Pakistan, grapple with the political and diplomatic fallout of India's deadliest terror attack in 15 years.

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By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 28, 2008

MUMBAI, Nov. 28 -- Indian army commandos struggled all day Thursday and into the early hours of Friday to regain control of two luxury hotels and a Jewish center in India's commercial capital, battling armed assailants who were part of a group that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said was "based outside the country."

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The coordinated attacks against well-known symbols of India's prosperity and places where Westerners and Israelis gather left at least 125 people dead and more than 320 wounded, authorities said, and transformed parts of Mumbai into a smoldering war zone. Dozens of people remained trapped in the vast hotels, although it was unclear how many gunmen were still inside.

Indian police and terrorism experts said they were uncertain who had carried out the attack, but Singh, in a nationally televised address, used phrases usually taken here to mean Pakistan, raising fears that the violence in Mumbai could raise tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals.

"The group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the commercial capital of the country," Singh said. "We will take up strongly with our neighbors 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."

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, said his government condemned the attacks in Mumbai. "It is unfair to blame Pakistan or Pakistanis for these acts of terrorism even before an investigation is undertaken," Haqqani said in a statement. "Instead of scoring political points at the expense of a neighboring country that is itself a victim of terrorism, it is time for India's leaders to work together with Pakistan's elected leaders in putting up a joint front against terrorism."

Arriving ashore in what police said were at least two rubber dinghies, groups of college-age men on Wednesday roamed the streets of Mumbai with automatic assault rifles and backpacks filled with ammunition and explosives, shooting up crowded places and taking hostages in hotels. One video shown again and again on television depicted the almost giddy face of a young gunman walking down the street with an AK-47 assault rifle.

The attackers struck targets in addition to the hotels and the Jewish center, including a movie theater, a hospital, a railway station, a cafe popular with foreigners and several other sites in the heart of Mumbai.

A British businessman, Rakesh Patel, who escaped the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel, told television stations that two young men with a machine gun forced 15 hostages onto the hotel roof and told them that "they wanted anyone with British or American passports."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert McInturff said three Americans were among those injured in the Mumbai attacks, the Associated Press reported. He said there was no indication that any U.S. citizens had been killed. The Web site of the Synchronicity Foundation, a Faber, Va.-based spiritual organization whose members were staying at one of the hotels, said two Americans in the group were feared dead and two Americans and two Canadians had been wounded by gunfire.

Five non-Indians -- an Australian, a Briton, a German, an Italian and a Japanese -- were reported killed.

"All we can say now is this is the worst, most brazen, audacious attacks in Indian history because people were shooting openly on the street," police official A.K. Sharma said. He spoke Thursday at the funeral of a police inspector who was killed while trying to stop gunmen at the train station. "It's a violent situation that's still ongoing. Mumbai remains at war."

As the sun set Thursday, some hostages unfurled "Save Us" banners from the windows of the Taj, across from the Gateway of India monument and Mumbai's waterfront. Others emerged from upper-story windows using bedsheets tied together as ladders. Earlier in the day, at least four bodies and dozens of freed hostages were taken out of the hotel -- a castlelike, 1903 landmark that was set on fire during the attacks.


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