At least 2 hostages die at India Jewish center
Commandos in control at Oberoi hotel; deaths of 2 Americans confirmed
msnbc.com news services
updated 6:24 a.m. PT, Fri., Nov. 28, 2008
MUMBAI, India - Indian commandos killed two Islamist gunmen after storming a Jewish centre in Mumbai but failed to save at least two hostages, officials said on Friday.
"We have neutralised two terrorists," said J.K. Dutt, director general of India's elite National Security Guard commando unit. "Along with that we have also found two bodies. Those bodies appear to be of hostages."
The militants had been holding up to nine hostages, including an Israeli rabbi and wife, at the centre for almost 48 hours. Reuters quoted an Israeli diplomat saying that the bodies of five hostages had been found at the site.
Earlier, Indian commandos emerged from the center after a massive explosion rocked the five-story building, apparently ending a daylong siege that saw a team rappel from helicopters. The fighting comes two days after a chain of militant attacks across India's financial center that began Wednesday night left at least 143 people dead.
The blast blew out windows in neighboring buildings and left the area cloaked with thick smoke.
An Israeli rescue service run by Orthodox Jews said staff it had sent to Mumbai to help also believed that hostages in the Chabad centre had died.
"Apparently the hostages did not remain alive," the Zaka service said in a brief statement quoting its staff in Mumbai, without elaborating.
A short way across the city, frequent gunshots and explosions also rang out from the luxury Taj hotel as elite commandos fought cat-and-mouse battles with a lone gunmen.
Commandos had earlier ended a siege of the luxury Oberoi hotel by killing two gunmen. Pakistan's spy chief also agreed to share intelligence with New Delhi on the brazen militant attacks.
The airborne assault on the center run by the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch was punctuated by gunshots and explosions " and at one point an intense exchange of fire that lasted several minutes " as forces cleared it floor by floor, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene.
Israel's ambassador to India, Mark Sofer, had told reporters they believed there were up to nine hostages inside. Sofer denied reports that Israeli commandos were taking part in the operation
It also emerged that an American man and his daughter had been killed in the attacks.
A spokeswoman with the Virginia-based Synchronicity Foundation said Alan Scherr and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed while they were in a cafe in Mumbai.
Bobbie Garvey said the 58-year-old father and his daughter were identified by colleagues. The two lived at the Nelson County foundation, about 15 miles southwest of Charlottesville. They had traveled to India to participate in a spiritual program.
Indian security officials insisted their operations, which had been going on for nearly two days, were almost over.
But at least one militant was still thought to be holding two hostages in the luxury Taj Mahal Hotel, an army commander said, after Wednesday's coordinated attacks.
Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj told reporters that almost all guests and staff had been evacuated from the Taj and the operation would be wrapped up in a few hours.
"He is moving in two floors, there is a dance floor area where apparently he has cut off all the lights," he said.
"This morning while carrying out the operation we heard the sound of a lady and a gentleman, so it is possible that this terrorist has got two or more hostages with him."
The head of an elite commando unit said the militants knew the layout of the hotel better than they did and called them "a very determined lot, remorseless".
The commander, his face disguised by a black scarf and sunglasses, said he had seen 50 bodies in the Taj, including 12 to 15 in one room.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pinned blame for the attacks on militant groups based in India's neighbors, usually an allusion to Pakistan.
He warned of "a cost" if these nations did not take action to stop their territory being used to launch such attacks.
In a diplomatic exchange that raised the prospect of renewed tension between the nuclear-armed rivals, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab urged Pakistan to dismantle infrastructure supporting militants.
His counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, called in turn on India not to play politics over the attacks in Mumbai.
"Do not bring politics into this issue. This is a collective issue. We are facing a common enemy and we should join hands to defeat the enemy," he told reporters during a visit to the Indian town of Ajmer.
But, in a move that perhaps reflected Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's conciliatory stance towards his neighbour, Islamabad agreed to send the head of its military intelligence service, the ISI, to India to share information on the attacks.
An estimated 25 men armed with assault rifles and grenades " at least some of whom arrived by sea " had fanned out across Mumbai on Wednesday night to attack sites popular with tourists and businessmen, including the city's top two luxury hotels.
Police said at least seven attackers were killed and nine suspects taken into custody. Twelve policemen were killed, including the chief of Mumbai's anti-terrorist squad.
Link to Pakistani group?
At least eight foreigners, including one Australian, a Briton, a Canadian, an Italian and a Japanese national, were killed. Scores of others had been trapped in the fighting or held hostage. Police said 279 people were wounded.
Two Americans, members of a Virginia-based spiritual organization called the Synchronicity Foundation, were missing and feared among the dead, the group said in a statement. It said the two were in the resturant in the Oberoi and eyewitnesses reported seeing them shot.
Members of Synchronicity were in Mumbai for a spiritual program.
The Hindu newspaper said at least three of the attackers taken into custody were members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, based in Pakistan.
The group made its name fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir, and has been closely linked in the past to the Pakistani military's Inter Services Intelligence agency, the ISI.
Lashkar-e-Taiba has denied any role in the attacks.
The militants appeared to specifically target Britons, Americans and Israelis, witnesses said.
Hundreds of people had been captive in the two hotels, many locking themselves in their rooms or trying to hide as the gunmen roamed the buildings.
One victim was British-Cypriot Andreas Dionysiou Liveras, 73, the owner of a luxury yacht business, said the Cypriot foreign ministry and his brother, Theophanis Liveras.
Andreas Dionysiou Liveras, who was attending a conference, had spoken to the British Broadcasting Corp. from a locked room inside the Taj Hotel before he was killed.
"As we sat at the table we heard the machine gun fire outside in the corridor. We hid under the table and then they switched all the lights off. ... All we know is the bombs are next door and the hotel is shaking every time a bomb goes off," he said.
Ratan Tata, who runs the company that owns the elegant Taj hotel, said the attackers appeared to have scouted their targets in advance.
"They seem to know their way around the back office, the kitchen. There has been a considerable amount of detailed planning," he told a news conference.
Survivors told harrowing stories of close encounters. Australian actress Brooke Satchwell, who starred in the "Neighbours" television soap opera, was at the Taj hotel for dinner when she heard machine-gun fire. She hid in a hotel bathroom cupboard.
"There was people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom," the shaken actress told Australian television. "The next thing I knew I was running down the stairs and there were a couple of dead bodies across the stairs. It was chaos."
Mumbai, on the western coast of India overlooking the Arabian Sea, is home to splendid Victorian architecture built during the British Raj and is one of the most populated cities in the world with some 18 million crammed into shantytowns, high rises and crumbling mansions.
One of the first targets was the Cafe Leopold, a famous hangout popular with foreign tourists.
Other targets included the 19th-century Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station " a beautiful example of Victorian Gothic architecture " where gunmen sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal, leaving the floor splattered with blood.
The attacks brought the biggest chaos to the city since serial bombings in 1993, blamed on the city's Muslim crime syndicates, killed 260 people and injured hundreds.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.