Elite commandos have reportedly stormed two hotels in India's financial hub of Mumbai, where over 100 people have been killed and nearly 300 injured in a day-long siege.
The death toll is expected to keep rising
Nearly 24 hours after terrorists sieged hotels across Mumbai, Indian military elite and police were still battling suspected Muslim militants who’d taken hostages inside the iconic Taj Mahal Palace and Trident Oberoi hotels.
The hotels were among the targets as the gunmen who, in groups of four to five, fired automatic weapons and lobbed grenades in attacks Wednesday night. In addition to the two five-star hotels, the city's busiest railway station, a cafe popular with foreign tourists, a cinema, a hospital, and other locations were also targeted.
The commandos entered the hotels late Thursday, Nov. 27 and began freeing those trapped inside and pulling out bodies of victims. Though the operations continue in all three hotels, a fire has broken out in the Taj Hotel, hampering efforts there. An estimated 200 guests had already been evacuated. It was not clear how many militants were holed up in the two hotels or how many people were trapped inside and whether they were hiding or were being held hostage, police said.
A number of Israelis were likewise being held hostage in ultra-Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish center, or Nariman House, in Mumbai. There was no way to confirm the number of hostages inside, but a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry estimated the number to be about a dozen.
Death toll, wounded figures likely to rise
Nearly 300 people have been injured, according to reports
Confusion still reigns in Mumbai as security forces attempt to roust out the terrorists and identify who and how many have been killed and injured. Officials say at least seven foreigners were among those killed, including a German, but they had not yet been identified.
Reports have also surfaced that a European parliament delegation was in the Taj hotel Wednesday; the lawmakers spoke Thursday about how they’d watched in horror as the militants opened fire with machine guns.
"All of a sudden there was gunshots that we could hear from outside the main grounds of the hotel. We were directed back into the hotel," Sajjad Karim, a Conservative member of the European parliament from northwest England, told BBC radio.
As the siege continued, European airlines including Lufthansa and Alitalia cancelled flights in and out of Mumbai. European nations then announced plans to send a plane to India to fly their citizens out.
"Most audacious attack"
At least 10 sites have been attacked
Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Ghafoor said the attacks were suspected of being coordinated terrorist assaults and added that the gunmen appeared to be using automatic weapons like AK-47s, AK-56s and semi-automatic rifles. Indian terrorism experts admit they had been caught flat-footed by this shift in attack from the car and suicide bombings which have targeted Indian cities over the last 15 years.
Those previous attacks have been mostly bombings at market places and trains triggered remotely by terrorists or Islamic militants attacking military camps and installations. This was the first time that the militants went on a frontal attack in civilian areas, spraying bullets and lobbing grenades at civilians, leading the state chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to describe it as the "most audacious attack" in the country.
A little-known organization called the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails sent to local news agencies soon after the initial attacks began at around 23:00 local time. Police said the identity of the attackers had not yet been established.
Global condemnation and support for India
The United States and Britain led the global condemnation of the attacks.
Washington condemned the "horrific" attack and the White House said it had convened a meeting of top intelligence and counter-terrorism officials in response, and stood "ready to assist and support the Indian government."
US President-elect Barack Obama's chief national security spokesman Brooke Anderson said the president-elect's prayers were with the victims and their families. "These coordinated attacks on innocent civilians demonstrate the grave and urgent threat of terrorism," Anderson said. "The United States must continue to strengthen our partnerships with India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had sent Indian premier Manmohan Singh a message assuring that "the UK stands solidly with his government as they respond, and to offer all necessary help."
"These outrageous attacks in Mumbai will be met with a vigorous response," he said.
Chancellor Merkel stayed at the Taj Hotel while visiting India last year
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’d stayed in the Taj hotel just last year, phoned Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday to express shock and send a message of condolence.
"Our thoughts are with the victims and their families," she said, furthering condemning "these criminal acts in strong terms."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also said such violence was "totally unacceptable," adding that "no cause or grievance can justify indiscriminate attacks against civilians." He called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice swiftly.