Sunday, November 30, 2008

Its Finally Over!

MUMBAI (AFP) - - Indian commandos on Saturday killed the last remaining gunmen in Mumbai's Taj hotel to end a devastating attack by Islamic militants on India's financial capital that left 195 dead, including 26 foreigners.

Shortly after dawn on the third day of the siege, heavy gunfire and loud explosions signalled the final commando offensive against the militants, who had held hundreds of security personnel at bay for 60 hours.

"All operations are over. All the terrorists have been killed," Mumbai police chief Hassan Gafoor said, as the special forces units emerged from the smoke-filled hotel and firemen moved in to douse a fierce blaze.

On Friday, elite troops had stormed a Mumbai Jewish centre and killed two gunmen -- but also found six dead Israeli hostages, including a US-based rabbi and his wife, who were murdered as the commandos closed in.

Another luxury hotel that was attacked, the Oberoi/Trident, was declared clear of militants late Friday, with scores of trapped guests rescued and 24 bodies found.
"They were the kind of people with no remorse -- anybody and whomsoever came in front of them they fired at," an Indian commando said of the young gunmen.
The head of the commando forces, J.K. Dutt, said his men were conducting a final sweep of the battle-scarred Taj.

"We are now going through each and every room to make sure it is safe," Dutt said, appealing to any guests still hidden in the hotel to make themselves known.
Mumbai disaster official R. Jadhav told AFP that 195 people had been killed and nearly 300 injured in the battle, which began when the dozen or so militants split into groups to attack multiple targets across the city, including the main railway station and a hospital.
TV channels described the attacks as "India's 9/11."

There were concerns that the death toll could rise as emergency services combed the warren of rooms at the main siege sites for more bodies.

The 26 foreigners killed included a total of eight Israelis, five Americans, two French nationals, two Australians, two Canadians, a German, a Japanese, a British Cypriot, an Italian, a Singaporean , a Thai and a Mauritian.

Around 15 security personnel were killed, including the head of Mumbai's anti-terrorist squad who was cremated with full honours Saturday at a funeral attended by thousands.
Eleven militants were confirmed dead and one captured. Indian intelligence sources said the detained gunman had confessed to coming from Pakistan.

One group entered Mumbai by boat, while others were believed to have rented property in the city -- stockpiling arms and explosives -- before the attacks were launched.
The crisis risked escalating into a major stand-off between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan , with Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee saying that "some elements in Pakistan" were responsible for the assault.

A number of Indian officials suggested the militants were from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba -- notorious for a deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001 that pushed New Delhi and Islamabad to the edge of war.
Pakistani leaders insisted their government had nothing to do with the attacks and appealed to India not to get drawn into a dangerous "blame game."

The two countries have fought three wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
Survivors have given terrifying accounts of the carnage in the hotels. Many said they hid in the dark for hours, barricaded in rooms or hiding under beds, inside wardrobes or bathrooms.
"I cannot believe what I have seen in the last 36 hours. I have seen dead bodies, blood everywhere and only heard gunshots," said Muneer Al Mahaj after he was rescued.
South African security guard Faisul Nagel was having dinner with colleagues at a restaurant in the Taj hotel when the assault began.

"We basically put the lights off in the restaurant just to create an element of surprise. And we armed ourselves with kitchen knives and meat cleavers," he told AFP.
They ended up helping around 120 people escape -- including a 90-year-old woman carried in her chair down 25 flights of stairs.

Television footage of the inside of the hotel showed half-eaten meals left on tables as diners fled for their lives. The restaurant walls were pockmarked with bullet holes and the floor covered with a thick layer of glass.

Witnesses said the attackers had specifically rounded up people with US and British passports.
Both the United States and Britain expressed condolences and offered to help investigate the assault on Mumbai, which has been hit by terror attacks before. Nearly 190 people were killed in train bombings in 2006.

India's newspapers laid much of the blame at the door of the intelligence agencies.

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