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Last updated: November 28, 2008 7:24 pm
Indian commandos on Friday took control of Mumbai’s Oberoi hotel and a siege at a Jewish centre was reported to be over leaving five hostages dead, but battles continued with militants who were still holed up in another luxury hotel.
At least one gunmen continued to hold out at the luxury Taj hotel, where explosions and gunfire erupted regularly as he played cat-and-mouse with the elite Indian commandos through the maze of corridors and rooms.
An Israeli diplomat told Israeli television by telephone from the scene that the bodies of five hostages had been found in the Jewish religious centre. ”The incident has not ended,” Haim Choshen told Channel 2. ”Five bodies of hostages have been found inside the Chabad House. We still don’t know whose bodies.”
As bodies began to be removed from the Oberoi, the number of people killed in the attacks rose to more than 140, with about 315 wounded. An Oberoi hotel manager said that all guests who were still alive had now been freed, but a police commander said it would take some time to complete the removal of the dead bodies from the hotel.
Indian commandos said earlier that dislodging the terrorists was proving a difficult task, indicating that the death toll could rise rapidly.
As Indian forces continued to fight room-to-room battles with terrorists at the Taj hotel, the Indian government increased its pressure on Pakistan as the suspected source of the attacks.
A senior marine commando officer, dressed in a black balaclava to obscure his identity, said the ”very determined and remorseless” militants were well armed and had smuggled an arsenal of weapons into the hotels ahead of their attack, including plastic explosives.
”There is blood all over, bodies all over. We are not looking at those who have been killed, just looking at who is exchanging fire,” he said.
The marine commander said the terrorists appeared to know the layout of the Taj hotel better than the Indian security forces. He also said his soldiers had recovered $1,200, Rs6,000 and eight credit cards from the militants.
”We do not know the layout of the hotel. Staff did not know the layout,” he said.
At the time of the briefing on Friday afternoon, the commander said there were an estimated three to four terrorists in the Taj hotel and two militants in the Oberoi hotel.
A naval spokesman said the attack on Mumbai had come from the sea. He said the militants landed in rubber boats and they could number as many as 24 people.
One victim of the Taj attack was named on Thursday night as self-made millionaire businessman Andreas Liveras, 72, a Cyprus-born UK citizen who died shortly after he had spoken to the BBC via his mobile phone about the attacks.
The Indian government said Friday that the attacks probably had their origins in Pakistan. Pranab Mukherjee, India’s external affairs minister, said preliminary investigation pointed towards Pakistani involvement, in spite of assertions by President Asif Ali Zardari that land under Pakistani control would not be allowed to launch attacks on India.
Pakistan denied involvement. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said: ”Do not be jingoistic … do not play politics with this issue. This is a collective issue.”
A little-known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks. A militant claiming to be one of those holding the Jewish family rang an Indian television channel to offer talks on the release of the hostages while complaining about India’s actions in Kashmir. India and Pakistan are at odds over the disputed territory, with Islamic fundamentalists staging cross-border raids against Indian forces.
The attacks come at a critical time for the Congress party-led government, which faces an election by next May and is trying to deal with a slowing economy.
Commentators have been critical of its record on security, with police struggling to bring militants to justice despite the growing frequency of attacks in cities.
”We’re the ultimate soft state,” said Suhel Seth, a marketing expert who had a room at the Taj when the attacks occurred. “You have 20 people holding a country of 1.1bn people to ransom.”
Mumbai’s government said up to 25 men dressed in jeans and T-shirts and armed with AK-47s and grenades arrived by boat in the city and attacked up to eight locations. Mumbai’s most senior police officer, A.N. Roy, said the terrorists would be “caught or killed”. More than half have been reported killed or missing, and police said nine suspects had been arrested.
Condemnation flooded in over the attacks, which have brought India’s financial capital to a halt, with most businesses closed on Thursday, including stock markets. The US president, George W. Bush, called Mr Singh to express condolences and offer support.
At least six foreigners, including Mr Liveras, an Australian, an Italian and a Japanese national, have been killed. Mr Liveras set up Liveras Yachts based in Monaco. The wife of Karambir Singh Kang, the Taj’s general manager, and their two children died from smoke asphyxiation, according to a hotel spokesperson.
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