EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT: It's War on the streets of Mumbai

Sumantra Maitra - in Mumbai, India
Terror struck in Mumbai late on Wednesday night, when heavily armed men orchestrated 12 simultaneous attacks with grenades and AK-47 rifles at posh hotels including the Taj Mahal Palace and Oberoi Trident, in the south of India's business capital.
A huge explosion took place on the dome of the Taj hotel which was engulfed in fire, while gunshots were heard at around 1.24 am.
  
There were also explosions at the Oberoi hotel in south Mumbai, where heavily armed men are reported to have struck.
  
The first gunfire was reported at the Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus station, where unconfirmed reports state, at least 10 people were killed. Thereafter, Mazagaon dock was attacked, where an explosion took place in a taxi. The next target was the Taj hotel. Afterwards, the terrorists are reported to have escaped towards Vidhan Bhawan, a very security-sensitive area.
  
A Jewish centre was also among those targeted. Police say an Israeli rabbi is among the hostages being held by five suspected terrorists at the Nariman House offices of the group, Chabad Lubavitch, in the heart of Colaba. It is feared that the lives of Jewish families, who live in the building, are under serious threat.

Police say 14 police officers, 81 Indian nationals and six foreigners have been killed. A Japanese businessman was confirmed to be among the dead. Four suspected terrorists have also been killed and nine arrested, they added.
  
The police have seized a boat at Mazgaon dock, which is reported to have contained huge amounts of arms and ammunition. An eyewitness said that the the attackers had machine guns and hand grenades, they were young men and shouted that they wanted to kill the British, American and Israeli nationals.

The terrorists, armed with sophisticated weapons and grenades, entered the Chatrapati Shivaji terminal and opened fire killing and injuring several people. As well as the Oberoi and Taj hotels, they also attacked several major building in the Colaba, Nariman Point area.

Terrorists fired indiscriminately at Mazgaon, Metro junction, Crawford market, Colaba. In Vile Parle there was a huge blast in a taxi in front of the airport.

Latest reports suggest that Anti-terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare, who was injured in the attack, was killed. Mumbai's top counter-intelligence expert Vijay Salaskar is also reported to have been killed at the Taj hotel during the attack.

Meanwhile, two teams of 15 navy commandos have been called in to end the hostage situation at Mumbai's Oberoi hotel. Authorities said that highly-trained naval marines are being pressed into service to neutralise the terrorists, who are holed up in the two hotels. Forty guests are said to be held hostage and hundreds more trapped in the hotels.

Indian army commandos early this morning moved into Oberoi and Taj Mahal hotels to flush out the Fidayeens (suicide bombers), who took control last night. Three to four heavily armed suicide attackers are said to be inside the Taj and Oberoi hotels.

Deccan Mujadhideen, a new terrorist organisation, claimed responsibility for the series of attacks, which claimed the lives of more than 100 people. Almost 300 people were injured. The militant Islamic outfit behind the attacks sent out emails to various news media organisations, claiming responsibility for the attacks in the business capital of India.
  
The IP address of this email was traced to a location in Russia, according tto intelligence sources. They confirmed that at least 40 Britons were being held hostage. Among the group of foreigners, a high profile Israeli rabbi and his children are also hostage.
A top French nuclear scientist has just been rescued as I file this report to The-Latest. He has contacted his embassy to say he is safe, sources confirmed.
  
National Security Guard commandos are planning to attack the house from behind, in a crowded area of the city, to ensure that they are able to free the hostages. Initial reports said that a group of terrorists escaped in a police vehicle and reached Colaba, where they threw a grenade on a petrol pump.

It has been revealed that the terrorists, who orchestrated the deadly Fidayeen attack, had reached Mumbai last night. They had used a sea route and they were dropped by their handlers, using two speed boats and a hovercraft. Indiscriminae gunshots are still being still heard as the commandos land on the roof of the hotels, and sporadic fighting continues inside.

It seems that the terrorists are willing to fight for long as they have no shortage of water or food inside the hotels. They have not demanded any ransom, so this is essentially not a hostage situation, but more of a suicide mission. More will be updated soon.

Sources said these men, who may have come from Lashkar-e-Toiba, were divided in pairs of two each and were asked to fire indiscriminately in crowded places in the city.

One pair of terrorists was shot at Girgaum in Chowpatty, when police men managed to stop the Skoda vehicle, in which they were trying to flee as they fired their weapons indiscriminately.

The audacious attack was well-coordinated and was said to be executed by Lashkar-e-Toiba. A CD found on one of the slain terrorists revealed that they were thoroughly briefed on the places to be attacked and the tactics to be used.

After disembarking from a hijacked police car, they entered Nariman House, in a pre-planned manner and held the Israeli families as hostages.

They also started firing their weapons after taking positions in the buildiing and are still holding out. Security forces have cordoned off the house.
Maharashtra deputy chief Minister RR Patil said that atleast one suspected attacker had been arrested and is being interrogated by RAW (the research and analysis wing of the Intelligence Bureau) and the Mumbai police. He also revealed that 11 policemen, including some of the top cops of the anti-terrorists squad, had been killed.
  
* Update from Sumantra Maitra at 23:00 GMT on Thursday: The Taj hotel is now cleared of terrorists, as a combined team of marines, army commandos, and national security guards swooped in. Seven terrorists was holed up in the hotel. All of them were killed, according to military sources.
  
The total death toll has increased to more than 130. Terrorists have hijacked a police jeep, and used it to run through the metro corridor in front of the Chatrapati railway terminus shooting at journalists and police. A senior video journalist as well as a reporter were slightly injured and a policeman died on the spot.
My sources said that a Greek billionaire (name not confirmed) is also dead, following the standoff between security forces and terrorists at the hotel. Commandos are preparing a final assault on the Trident hotel and Nariman House as I file this update.
  
Marines can be seen entering the Oberoi Trident hotel with rocket launchers, flash grenade launchers, explosives and assault rifles, as the whole of the surroundong area is under a blackout, with power and water supplies being cutoff, the cable and satellite televisions as well as the mobile phones are jammed within 200 meters of the two encounter spots. A fierce gun battle is raging inside the Oberoi Trident.
  
* Update from Sumantra Maitra at 05:00 GMT on Friday: According to the Director General of the National Security Guard, J.K.Dutt, the Oberoi Trident hotel buildings are free of terrorists, two of them were "neutralised" or killed. Two AK 47s and a pistol, ammunition and lots of unexploded grenades were recovered as well as a cell phone and 1200 dollars and 6000 rupees. Lots of dry food were also found. The hostages are freed and are being taken to the hospitals and trauma centres. The exact number of fatalities is not known, as a room by room search is going on for explosives and booby traps. Police will enter after a couple of hours to secure the area. One national security guard commando was injured in the operation. Dutt said that the marines were the best in the country and told the media and citizens to have faith in them.

However, this incident is escalating to a major diplomatic row, as the India Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee said in a press conference that the intelligence bureau has direct evidence of links to our neighbouring country, Pakistan. The Foreign Minister for Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, has said in a counter statement that its not the time to be jingoistic though that is the fashion these days. He also stated that Pakistan and India faces a common enemy and that they should fight this problem collectively and through means of data sharing.

In an unconfirmed report from a source in the Ministry of External Affairs for India, Israel has expressed its concern at the style of the commando operation adopted by India and the fate of the Israeli Jewish hostages.

The army confirmed that a lone terrorist is holed up in the Taj hotel, after fresh rounds of staccato gunshots were heard at 11.30 in the morning. One wing of the building is "cleared", but the operation is still ongoing in the other wing, army sources stated.

British High Commissioner Richard Stagg is in Mumbai along with British Deputy High Commissioner Vicki Treadell. They have been visiting hospitals throughout the night. Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs for Israel, Tzipi Livni, spoke to the Israeli Consul General in Mumbai. She said: "I condemn this criminal terrorist attack that is still going on in Mumbai. This is further painful evidence that the terrorist threat is the greatest challenge which Israel and the international community have to face. Nothing justifies the unforgivable slaughter of innocents; it is therefore incumbent on the international community to cooperate in the ongoing war against this contemptible, heinous manifestation of terror." Calls from Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Canon, Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President have also been received by the Indian government.

"The United States Government is shocked and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life caused by these vicious acts of terrorism. I extend sincere condolences to those injured by these criminal acts and to the families of the victims. The US Government has offered extensive assistance to deal with this ongoing crisis and stands ready to assist as the situation unfolds," US ambassador David Mulford said, as the US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice telephoned Minister Pranab Mukherjee and condemned the attacks.

Meanwhile, freed British hostages Karen Davies and William Bose, Australian Adam Martin, Italian Davide Canazie and American James Kiss, appeared distraught and puzzled but defiant. A myriad of emotions were expressed by these foreign nationals as they gave full support to the Indian government. Karen Davies said she won't cut short her visit to India. Aussie Adam Martin admitted that though he is a bit ruffled these attacks will not deter him from visiting India."I don't think fleeing or staying couped in the hotel because of these cowards is the answer...", he said. Kiss who is a political consultant in the US said he won't cancel his planned trip next week to Mumbai..

Bose and Canezie was glued to the Indian news channels throughout the day worried about the safety of their friends in the Taj hotel. They later received a telephone call to say that all were rescued safely by crack commandos.
  
* Update from Sumantra Maitra at 16:08 GMT on Friday:   Nariman house, the Jewish centre, is now under the control of Indian marines, commandos, and the National Security Guard (NSG), but 5 hostages were killed (this includes an Israeli rabbi, and his wife, NDTV reports) along with two terrorists. ML Kumavat, Special Secretary of the Indian Home Ministry in Delhi, says that of the eight foreigners killed, three were German, one Japanese, one Canadian, one Australian and two unknown. However,   Australian officials have said two of its citizens have died.
  
Mr Kumavat says five Britons were among 22 injured foreigners, including two Americans, two Omanis and one each from Norway, Spain, Canada, Finland, the Philippines, Australia, Italy, China, and two whose nationality is unknown.The Indian prime minister's spokesman has confirmed that the head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, has agreed to visit India to assist in the investigation into the Mumbai attacks.

Mumbai police commissioner Hassan Ghafoor says 24 bodies have been found in the Oberoi Trident hotel. It is unclear whether this will increase the number of deaths already reported. Mr Ghafoor says the hotel has been cleared, but operations are continuing in two other locations. One gunman has been arrested, while two or three others are still fighting.The NSG commandos have used huge explosives to blow up two floors of the building.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has refused to be drawn on reports that British citizens of Pakistani origin could have been involved in the terrorism attacks in Mumbai.Speculation about this involvement was also fuelled by remarks attributed to Erika Mann, a German member of the European Parliament (EP), who was caught up in the attacks during a visit of a EP delegation to Mumbai.

Britain has sent Scotland Yard detectives to Mumbai, and the US has also sent investigators to the city where a fierce gunbattle is raging between terrorists and security guards in the second wing of the Taj hotel.The total death toll is now reported to be 155.

* Update from Sumantra Maitra at 04:03 GMT on Saturday:   General Hooda, the Director General of the National Security Guard, has said that the three remaining terrorists in the Taj hotel were killed. One was literally thrown top-down from a broken second floor window, in full view of the media, bringing to an end what seemed like a bloody hand to hand combat. Another terrorist has been captured alive and is known as Ajmal. He is being questioned by a combined security investigation team of a dozen countries. The operation is not completely over as the rooms in the hotel have to be sanitised and searched for explosives and boobytraps.


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