India ends Mumbai rampage after 60 hours, 195 dead

Sunday, November 30, 2008
ALTAF QADRI ~ Associated Press
People look at the Taj Mahal hotel Saturday after the completion of an operation against terrorists, in 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 killed people.

MUMBAI, India -- It took just 10 young men armed with rifles and grenades to terrorize this city of 18 million and turn its postcard-perfect icons into battlefields until security forces ended one of the deadliest attacks in India's history early Saturday.

After the final siege at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, crowds surrounded six buses carrying weary, unshaven commandos dressed in black fatigues, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. One of the commandos said he had been awake for nearly 60 hours since the assault began Wednesday. Another sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose.

The rampage carried out by suspected Muslim militants at 10 sites across Mumbai, the nation's financial capital formerly known as Bombay, killed at least 195 people and wounded 295. Among the dead were 18 foreigners, including six Americans.

Flames and smoke engulfed the Taj Mahal after dawn Saturday as Indian forces killed the last three militants with grenades and gunfire. Hours after the fire fight, parts of the landmark hotel were in shambles, its corner facade charred black and a red carpet leading to double doors littered with broken glass.

Deccan Mujahideen

GURINDER OSAN ~ Associated Press
Meeta Gohil, in green dress, and relatives and neighbors mourn Saturday as they attend the funeral of her brother Haresh Gohil, 25, who was killed by gunmen near Chabad-Lubavitch center, also known as Nariman House in 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 rocked the nation.

While soldiers scoured the 565-room Taj Mahal for any remaining captives and defused booby traps, city residents began mourning and cremating the dead. At least 20 killed in the fighting were members of security forces.

A previously unknown Muslim group called Deccan Mujahideen -- a name suggesting origins inside India -- has claimed responsibility. But Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman, now in custody, was from Pakistan. Nine other attackers were killed, they said.

Each new detail about the attackers raised more questions. Who trained the militants, who were so well prepared they carried bags of almonds to keep their energy up? What role, if any, did Pakistan play in the attack? And how did so few assailants, who looked like college students, wreak so much damage?

Pakistan denied it was involved and asked for evidence for Indian charges. Islamabad has pledged to share intelligence with its neighbor.

As officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan, some Indians looked inward and expressed anger at their own government.

"People are worried, but the key difference is anger," said Rajesh Jain, chief executive officer at a brokerage firm, Pranav Securities. "People are worked up about the ineffectiveness of the administration. Does the government have the will, the ability to tackle the dangers we face?"

On Saturday, officials said they believed that just 10 gunmen had taken part in the attacks.

The sole survivor, identified as a Pakistani national, Mohammad Ajmal Qasam, was being interrogated, officials said.

The gunmen were as brazen as they were well trained, using sophisticated weapons, GPS technology and mobile and satellite phones to communicate, authorities said.

"They were constantly in touch with a foreign country," said R.R. Patil, deputy to the chief of Maharashtra state's chief, without giving further details.

"Whenever they were under a little bit of pressure they would hurl a grenade. They freely used grenades," said Dutt.

Suspicions in Indian media quickly settled on the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, long seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence service to help wage its clandestine war against India in disputed Kashmir.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said some "signatures of the attack" were consistent with Lashkar and Jaish-e-Mohammed, another group that has operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to al-Qaida.

U.S. officials were worried about a possible surge in violence between Pakistan and India -- the nuclear armed rivals have fought three wars against each other, two over Kashmir -- and were sending FBI agents to India to help investigate.

President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support for the investigation, saying the killers "will not have the final word."

"As the people of the world's largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of world's oldest democracy to stand by their side," Bush added in a brief address from the White House.

Indian security officers believe many of the gunmen may have reached the city using a black and yellow rubber dinghy found near the attack sites.

The Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack.

The trawler, named Kuber, had been found Thursday and was brought to Mumbai, a peninsula surrounded by the Arabian Sea, said Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar. Authorities suspect the boat had sailed from a port in the neighboring state of Gujarat.

The fighting narrowed to the Taj Mahal hotel on Friday night, hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found at least eight hostages dead Friday.

The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building. At least two Israelis and another American were also killed in the house, said Rabbi Zalman Schmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which ran the center.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said nine bodies had been found in the center.

Among the foreigners killed in the attacks were six Americans, according to the U.S. Embassy. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.

By Saturday night the death toll was at 195, the country's deadliest attack since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll from the three days of carnage was likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.

In the southern city of Bangalore, black-clad commandos formed an honor guard for the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel.

"He gave up his own life to save the others," said J.K. Dutt, director general of India's elite commando unit.

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