Indian commandos storm hotels in Mumbai

A major fire has broken out at the Oberoi Hotel. While 400 hostages have been evacuated from the Taj since last night, the army has launched a final assault at Nariman House after NSG commandos failed to drive out the terrorists.

One terrorist, identified as Abu Ismail from Faridkot, Pakistan, was arrested at the Trident Oberoi by the National Security Guard (NSG) team and 31 hostages have been rescued, General Officer Command (GOC), Western Naval Command J.S. Bedi confirmed. He has told the Mumbai police that he has been trained by the Lashkar e Tayiba.

Elite Indian forces have launched a counter-terrorist operation to free hostages held by extremists at several locations in Mumbai. It follows a series of attacks in the city, which have so far killed more than 120 people and injured around 300 others.

Teams of gunmen attacked a train station, a hospital, cafes and two luxury hotels. Among the dead are 16 police officers and six foreigners.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says no Russian citizens were harmed in the attacks.

“According to our information, no Russian citizens were harmed in the terrorist attacks. The Russian Embassy to India and the Russian Consulate General in Mumbai are maintaining close interaction with the Indian authorities,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

It’s reported that more than 100 hostages were being held in two luxury hotels in the city. Indian police say most have been freed from the Taj Mahal Hotel. Dozens of people, mostly westerners, were seen leaving.

The city map (AFP)
The city map (AFP)

The well-armed gunmen attacked Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, a hospital and several restaurants, including Cafe Leopold, the local landmark restaurant.

Eyewitness accounts from Cafe Leopold say the terrorists were looking for UK and US passport holders.

Explosions have been heard in both hotels, the Oberoi Trident and the Taj Mahal Palace.

A fire broke out on the top floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel, probably caused by a grenade. Firefighters managed to bring the blaze under control and to rescue several people.

Terrorists are reported to be demanding the release of all the Mujaheddin in India in exchange for the release of the hostages. Equal rights for Muslims living in India are also one of their demands.

Police say at least 300 people have been injured in the attacks, while the 100 or so fatalities include Hemant Karkare, the head of Mumbai's anti-terrorist squad. Two other senior officers were also killed, apparently in a shootout with terrorists holding hostages at a hospital. A taxi carrying explosives exploded at the airport.

Unconfirmed reports say up to 16 separate terrorist squads armed with grenades and automatic weapons were unleashed on the city.

CST station ( click to enlarge)
CST station ( click to enlarge)

The authorities say at least nine terrorists have been killed and nine suspects arrested.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the attacks in Mumbai were probably plotted by a group based in a neighbouring country. (Click to read the address of the Prime Minister)

The situation in the city centre remains chaotic with many areas sealed off.

There are reports of attacks in other districts of Mumbai, including a low-intensity blast at Ville Parle and a grenade attack in Santa Cruz. Two explosions were also reported in the Napean Sea road area of south Mumbai.

Police are also investigating suspicious boats anchored off Mumbai harbour.

Media reports say a Japanese man died in Bombay Hospital. 

Nine Europeans were taken to hospital, three in a serious condition with gunshot wounds. All were staying at the Taj Mahal hotel, which is a popular tourist spot.

It is reported an unspecified number of terrorists arrived in Mumbai by boat and began firing. The attackers threw grenades and fired indiscriminately while storming hotels across the city.  Mumbai, also known as Bombay, is India’s financial capital.

According to Indian TV, a hitherto unknown organisation calling itself ‘Deccan Mujahadeen’ sent an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attacks.  It’s suspected the attackers may have links to Al Qaida.

Various sources suggest that the terrorists most probably came from Karachi in Pakistan by sea.The Indian Navy has intercepted a Vietnamese registered ship that is suspected to have dropped the terrorists off the coast from Karachi to Mumbai. Eyewitness saw the speed boat in the late evening between 6 to 9 pm local time with the attacks carried out at around 9:15 pm local time. The crew of the ship are being questioned.

Defence Public Relations Officer, Captain Nambiar, told reporters that “the navy has enhanced patrol from the Mumbai coast up to Gujarat.”

Meanwhile, the initial interrogation of terrorists captured in Mumbai has yielded some basic information. The terrorists were constantly using satellite phones to talk live with their Pakistani counterparts.

The entire operation was allegedly led by ethnic Pakistanis, but the involvement of some local youngsters cannot be rules out.



Tajmahal Hotel ( click to enlarge)
Tajmahal Hotel ( click to enlarge)
Mumbai's troubled past

“Mumbai is to India what New York is to the US – a trade, financial, cultural and tourist hub.” RT commentator Aleksey Nikolov says “the terrorist attacks on city will be remembered as India’s 9/11.”

Mumbai has been regularly targeted by terrorists since March 1993. Muslim underworld figures tied to Pakistani militants allegedly carried out a series of bomb attacks, leading to riots an conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Among the targets in the 1993 attacks were the city’s stock exchange, trains, hotels and petrol stations. A total of 257 people were killed and more than 1,100, wounded.
A crime syndicate going by the name of D-Company was held responsible.

Almost two and a half years ago, on July 11, 2006, terrorists targeted Mumbai's suburban railway system. On that occasion, too, the attacks were rigorously co-ordinated, with seven bombs being detonated on seven different trains within 11 minutes. The death toll eventually reached 209, with more than 700 injured.

International reaction

The UK and US governments, as well as US President-elect, Barack Obama, have condemned the attacks. On behalf of the current US administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke out, while a statement was released on behalf of President Bush. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke for the UK.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has commented, saying that:“No cause or grievance can justify indiscriminate attacks against civilians,” he said.

Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has also expressed his condolences to the Indian Prime Minister, adding that: “Such terror attacks are a challenge to humankind.”

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is the latest to condemn the outrage.

Walid Phares