Mumbai Attack Victims Recall Their Desperation, Gunmen's Ruthlessness

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.
By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 30, 2008

MUMBAI, Nov. 29 -- About two dozen Americans, their cameras filled with photos of Hindu temples and Buddhist caves, were eating a sushi dinner in the posh lobby cafe of the Oberoi hotel when a young gunman raised an assault rifle and opened fire.

It was just after 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, the start of a terrifying siege that would last about three days.

"We all dived under the table," said Linda Ragsdale, a children's book illustrator from Nashville who was visiting India with a Virginia-based meditation group. "I tried to lay my head down and pretend I was dead."

Bullets whizzed over the diners' heads. The sound of grenades reverberated off the polished marble floors of the cafe. Ragsdale pulled a young girl under the table. But it quickly became apparent that the girl, Naomi Scherr, a spunky 13-year-old with red hair, had been hit. Her body was pale and limp.

"I was taking in the enormity of the moment, thinking that this energetic child who I had been playing with in the pool the night before -- and had made a pact to do somersaults with -- was dead, shot. That's when the shooting started again. It was loud and continuous. And there were constant bomb blasts," Ragsdale recalled. "Within minutes, I saw another gunman coming around the corner. He shot me. I felt nothing, and I again tried to play dead," she said. The bullet ricocheted off her spine. She spoke from her bed at Bombay Hospital, where she was being treated.

After a wave of coordinated terrorist attacks turned parts of Mumbai's financial district into a combat zone, the full extent of the 60 hours of violence came to light Saturday in the stories of victims who filled the city's hospitals. The assailants killed at least 195 people and wounded about 300. Among the dead were 22 foreigners, including six Americans.

Nashville resident Rudrani Devi, who works as a homeopathic healer, recalled that 10 minutes into the ordeal, she heard another flurry of gunshots. Then, Naomi's father, Alan Scherr, collapsed after a bullet pierced the back of his skull. The 58-year-old former University of Maryland professor was a member of the Synchronicity Foundation, the meditation group whose members were dining together in the cafe when the assault began.

"His blood had gotten in my eyes and in my hair," Devi said. "In that moment, I felt his soul leave his body."

A bullet took a chunk of flesh from her left arm.

"I didn't dare look up," she said. "I wouldn't say it was a war zone, because we weren't able to shoot back. It felt more like a massacre."

Suddenly, the gunmen vanished, and hotel workers told the guests to get out of the cafe before the attackers returned.

Ragsdale and Devi had to step over bodies to get out of the cafe, then down a service stairway leading to the hotel's kitchen and then out a back door, where other hotel workers had commandeered taxis as makeshift ambulances for transport to hospitals.

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