Friday, November 28, 2008

Series of Attacks in Mumbai Leave at Least 125 People Dead

From the Washington Post Foreign Service, by Emily Wax and Debbi Wilgoren, Thursday, November 27, 2008:

MUMBAI, Nov. 27 - Sharpshooters and Indian Army commandos conducted dramatic raids Thursday inside two of India's most luxurious hotels, attempting to root out gunmen whose deadly attacks have transformed parts of India's commercial capital into smoldering war zones.

Hundreds of families grieved for the 125 people reported killed, as police and terrorism experts remained puzzled over who was behind the attacks on the hotels, a Jewish center, and other sites in the heart of Mumbai. More than 325 people were reported injured.

Closed-circuit television cameras that recorded some scenes of the attack showed college-aged men roaming the streets with automatic assault rifles and backpacks apparently filled with ammunition and explosives. In one video still, one of the gunmen appears almost giddy as he walks down the street with an AK-47 assault rifle.

In a speech on national television Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the first official assertion that the attackers were from outside India, statements usually taken here to point to Pakistan. "The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of panic, by choosing high profile targets and indiscriminately killing foreigners," Singh said. Some news channels split their screens to show the prime minister speaking and the ongoing battle between security personnel and the attackers.

The prime minister called for creation of "a central agency" to investigate terrorism in India, where some 44 bomb blasts in seven different cities have killed more than 150 people since May. Wednesday's assaults were seen as unprecedented, authorities said, in terms of the open, coordinated effort to lay siege to well-known symbols of India's prosperity and to places where Westerners gathered...

...The attacks began at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. In addition to the assault on the Taj and Oberoi hotels, bands of masked assailants armed with rifles, hand grenades and explosives attacked a popular café packed with tourists; the historic Metro Cinema; a crowded train station; the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish center and a hospital.

Eight Israelis were being held hostage at the Jewish center, officials said, including a young rabbi and his wife. Their condition, and the total number of hostages trapped in or rescued from the hotels, was not known.

At the Jewish center, five rounds of shooting were heard Thursday and a grenade was thrown, said army officials who were surrounding the site and launching a rescue effort.

... gunmen ...began shooting at Nariman House, the headquarters of Chabad Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish group that offers outreach and a place for traveling Jews to attend prayer services and eat kosher food.

"We heard bang-bang in the alleyway and first thought it was firecrackers. But then we heard horrible grief and a woman ran out covered in the blood of her mother. We saw two older women were shot dead while cooking dinner in their kitchens," said Sanjay Kokate, who was a local political leader and said he was part of a self-appointed citizens police force. "We helped carry the bodies out. People have been trapped inside their apartments ever since. It's so horrifying."
According to Chabad's Web site, the center is run by Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka....

...and from Nov 27, 2008 by BY HERB KEINON AND AP:

...Amid the carnage and chaos in Mumbai that left at least 120 people dead, there was mounting fear in Jerusalem Thursday night for up to 20 Israelis being held hostage by terrorists in the besieged Chabad House.

There were conflicting reports about whether some of the hostages had been freed, and there was grave concern for the lives of Chabad's emissary, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife Rivka.

Late Thursday, two explosions were reported at the building, suggesting that a commando operation might be under way.

Eight people seen outside Chabad House in Mumbai earlier Thursday night were local Indians from a home in the same compound, and not Jewish or Israeli hostages from the Chabad House, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, refuting media reports that the Chabad House hostages had been freed.

Palmor said that the ministry's information was obtained from the Mumbai police. This was an indication of the degree to which Jerusalem was watching the dramatic developments in Mumbai with frustration, unable to get clear information about what was transpiring on the ground, and deeply troubled about the fate of an unknown number of Israelis believed to be held hostage.

While throughout the day Foreign Ministry officials were being quoted as saying that 10 to 20 Israelis were among the hostages, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Thursday evening that 32 Israelis believed to be in the city had not yet been accounted for.

Livni said that it was not known how many people were in the Chabad House, and that the situation was "worrisome." The house is a center not only for Israelis visiting the city, but also for Jews from all over the world.

Chabad spokesman Moni Ender in Israel said there were eight Israelis inside the house, including the Chabad rabbi and his wife. Thursday morning Sandra Samuel, a woman who worked at the center and had been barricaded inside, came out of the building with the Holtzbergs' two-year-old son, Moshe.

In addition to the Chabad House, Livni said it was likely that there were also Israelis in the Oberoi Hotel, one of two luxury hotels that the terrorists also took over. No Israelis were believed to be in the other hotel, the Taj Mahal...

...Indian authorities reported that 119 people had died and 288 were wounded when the terrorists, armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives, launched a highly coordinated attack against 10 sites in the city Wednesday night.

Dozens of people were held throughout the day at the hotels and the nearby Chabad House by the well-trained and heavily armed gunmen, authorities said.

...President Shimon Peres said that the events in India must make the world aware of the dangers of terrorism, the need to develop a united and serious strategy in the war against terror and the importance of striking at the core of terror cells in different parts of the world. Peres pointed to Iran as the heartland of global terrorism, saying that it openly supported terror....

....Greer Fay Cashman and Judy Siegel contributed to this report.
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