Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Jewish Center Retaken, Hostages Reported Dead

Fighting Dies Down After Three Days of Combat

Indian commandos used a barrage of grenades and powerful explosives today to root out die-hard terrorists who battled government troops for a third day in Mumbai.

The fighting appeared to come to an end at the Trident-Oberoi Hotel and a Jewish outreach center, but firing continued at the sprawling Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The most dramatic conclusion came today at Chabad House, the Jewish center, with troops rappeling onto the roof from helicopters and the building being peppered with grenades as residents crowded surrounding rooftops to cheer on the attack.

At one point troops were seen dangling what appeared to be a mannequin over the side of the building in an apparent attempt to get the terrorists to reveal themselves.

Despite the blasts, militants inside continued to fire intensely at the advancing troops, until a huge blast rocked the building. The explosion was so powerful that debris flew off the sides of the building.

A few more shots were exchanged before the building went quiet and searchlights could be seen moving through the house. People streamed into the streets singing.

Indian media reported, however, that five hostages inside the building had died. The dead were not identified, but among those believed to be inside were American rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivka.

A cook for the center had escaped earlier with the couple's 2-year-old son. The boy was unhurt, but his clothing was covered in blood. The cook said she last saw the couple lying on the floor unconscious.

The militants, believed to number about 20 to 25, surged into Mumbai's fashionable downtown district on Wednesday firing indiscriminately into hospitals, a train station, a cafe and other sites before taking hostages and preparing for a fight to the death in the two hotels and the Chabad center.

An Indian commando who fought them said the fighters were young men who were ruthless.

"They were the type of people with no remorse. Anybody and whosoever was in front of them, they fired," the commando told a news conference.

Fighting continued at the Taj hotel despite officials having twice in recent days declared it to be under the control of government troops. The troops blasted a third-floor window with a rocket-propelled grenade. Debris from the blasts showered crowds outside, wounding several bystanders.

Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj of the Indian army said his troops were hunting a final holdout fighter who was moving between two floors and had cut power to some areas.

"It is possible that this terrorist has got two or more hostages with him," the general said. "He is moving in two floors, there is a dance floor area where apparently he has cut off all the lights. And sometimes he gets holed up into some of the rooms, and he has made the area dark," Thamburaj said.

At the Trident-Oberoi, the fighting ended after Indian troops claimed they killed the final two attackers who had taken over the hotel, killing staff and tourists and setting the building on fire.

"The hotel is under our control," J.K. Dutt, director-general of India's elite National Security Guard commando unit, told reporters.

Hundreds of people have been freed from the two hotels, many rushed immediately into ambulances. Survivors reported seeing dead bodies in the hallways and lobbies.

The death toll across the city, which is expected to rise, now stands at 121, Mumbai police tell ABC News, including eight foreigners. There are 279 injured, 22 of whom are foreigners, according to the city's police control room.

At least 11 of the assailants have been killed and several arrested. In additon, 14 policemen died in the gunbattles.

A previously unknown group that calls itself Deccan Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

In an e-mail the group sent to news organizations, Deccan Mujahideen cited attacks on Muslims in India as the reason for the assault.

"You should know that your acts are not at all left unnoticed; rather we are closely keeping an eye on you and just waiting for the right time to execute your bloodshed," the communique said.

Mumbai Jewish Center Retaken, Hostages Reported Dead
ABC News