Last Gunmen Killed in India, Ending Siege
Saturday, November 29, 2008
MUMBAI, Nov. 29 -- Security forces brought a three-day assault on India's financial and cultural capital to an end Saturday morning, killing the last remaining gunmen holed up in one of the city's luxury hotels after freeing hostages and recovering bodies from two hotels and a Jewish center Friday.
Pakistani officials, responding to charges by Indian leaders that the attack was carried out by an organization with ties to Pakistan, said a senior intelligence officer would travel to India, in an apparent attempt to ease tensions between the two nuclear-armed states.
Indian officials said they now believe that at least 15 gunmen carried out the operation after reaching Mumbai by sea. After an interrogation of one of the attackers, Indian intelligence officials said they suspected that a Pakistani Islamist group, Lashkar-i-Taiba, was responsible. An Indian intelligence document from 2006 obtained by The Washington Post said members of the group had been trained in maritime assault.
Authorities said that the death toll had risen to 195 as more bodies were discovered and that 295 people were wounded, the Associated Press reported, in attacks on the hotels, the Jewish center and several other sites in Mumbai. Among the dead were two Americans from Virginia; the American rabbi who ran the city's Chabad-Lubavitch center and his Israeli wife; and three of their visitors, including an American man, an Israeli woman and a man with U.S. and Israeli citizenship. In all, 16 non-Indians have been reported killed.
Explosions from fighting at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel could be heard outside the hotel early Saturday morning, and flames and thick, inky-black smoke were seen pouring from the first floor.
Every crisis has its defining images. In Mumbai's massacre, it was the elegant Taj engulfed in flames. "It hurts my heart. It's like India itself is on fire," said Sanjay Jadhu, 43, a firefighter at the landmark hotel who was covered in soot.
Freed hostages said that many of those trapped did not come face to face with the gunmen but hid after hearing explosions and gunfire and receiving text messages and calls from loved ones telling them what was happening.
"It was such a scary ordeal when you hear grenades going off and shooting outside your hotel room," said Philip Meyer, a French businessman who wheeled his luggage out of the Oberoi hotel on Friday and rubbed his eyes, bright pink from two days without sleep, before rushing into a taxi. "My two children were calling me nonstop. I was so scared."
Sanjay Vaswani, associate director of Kroll, a private risk assessment and security firm, said he was sending a flurry of text messages to high-level business clients who were trapped inside the Oberoi. Vaswani said he had been at the site for 48 hours. "We have never seen anything as drastic as this," he said, watching as a stream of freed hostages rushed onto buses. "We tried to be in minute-to-minute touch, telling them to stay down, don't do any sudden moves."
Mumbai Police Commissioner Hassan Ghafoor said that police teams had found 41 of the dead inside the Oberoi by midnight Friday and that room-to-room searches were continuing.
Indian officials told reporters that two captured gunmen were British citizens of Pakistani origin. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other officials said that they had not been informed that Britons had been arrested but added that investigations were continuing.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned India not to "be jingoist" in making accusations about the attackers' origins, and said the two countries "are facing a common enemy, and we have to join hands to defeat this enemy."