Indian forces kill last of gunmen in Mumbai
Saturday, November 29, 2008
MUMBAI, India -- Indian commandos killed the last remaining gunmen holed up at a luxury Mumbai hotel Saturday, ending a 60-hour rampage through India's financial capital by suspected Islamic militants that left more than 150 people dead and rocked the nation.
Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 400-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday (late Friday Central time) as Indian forces ended the siege in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found six hostages dead.
More than 150 people were killed and several hundred wounded in the violence that started when more than a dozen assailants attacked 10 sites across Mumbai Wednesday night. Fifteen foreigners were among the dead.
"The Taj operation is over. The last two terrorists holed up there have been killed," Mumbai police chief Hasan Ghafoor said. J.K. Dutt, director general of India's elite National Security Guard commando unit, told reporters outside the hotel that his forces would continue to search and clear the hotel.
With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India's history, attention turned from the military operation to questions of who was behind the attack and the heavy toll on human life.
Authorities scrambled to identify those responsible for the unprecedented attack, with Indian officials pointing across the border at rival Pakistan, and Pakistani leaders promising to cooperate in the investigation. A team of FBI agents was ordered to fly to India to help investigate.
On Friday, commandos killed the last two gunmen inside the Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said. Dozens of people were evacuated from the Oberoi earlier Friday.
As fighting stretched into a fourth day Saturday, the Taj Mahal hotel was wracked by hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions, even though authorities said earlier they cleared it of gunmen.
Indian forces launched grenades and traded gunfire with what authorities believed was one or two militants holed up in the ballroom. What appeared to be a black-clad figure toppled from a first-floor window, but further details were unavailable.
By Friday evening, at least nine gunmen had been killed and one arrested, said R. Patil, a top official in Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is the capital.
In the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday morning, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center as snipers laid down cover fire.
For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch.
The assault blew huge holes in the center, and, at one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building.
Soon after, elated commandos ran outside with their rifles raised over their heads in a sign of triumph.
But inside the Chabad House was a scene of tragedy.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 1 TV that the bodies of three women and three men were found at the center. Some of the victims had been bound, Barak said.
Local media reports, quoting top military officials, said two gunmen were found dead in the building.
The attackers were well-prepared, apparently scouting some targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.
The gunmen moved skillfully through the blood-slickened corridors of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, switching off lights to confuse the commandos.
Authorities were working to find out who was behind the attacks, claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.
President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. "These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India's great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them," he said in a statement.
India's foreign minister said the blame appeared to point to Pakistan. "According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks," Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.
Jaiprakash Jaiswal, India's home minister, said a captured gunmen had been identified as a Pakistani.
Patil, the Maharashtra state official, said: "It is very clear that the terrorists are from Pakistan. We have enough evidence that they are from Pakistan."
Earlier Friday, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar denied involvement by his country. "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."
Associated Press writers Ramola Talwar Badam, Erika Kinetz, Anita Chang and Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report from Mumbai, and Foster Klug and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed from Washington.