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Archive for Thursday, November 27, 2008

Westerners targeted in rampage

November 27, 2008

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— Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station and a Jewish group's headquarters in India’s financial capital, killing at least 101 people, taking Westerners hostage and leaving parts of the city under siege today, police said. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.

Police and gunmen were exchanging occasional gunfire at two luxury hotels and dozens of people were believed held hostage or trapped in besieged buildings. Pradeep Indulkar, a senior official at the Maharashtra state Home Ministry said 101 people were killed and 287 injured.

Officials said at least eight militants had also been killed since the overnight attacks that targeted at least 10 separate sites began around 9:30 p.m.

Gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch, the New York-based group said. Indian commandos surrounded the building in the morning, and media reports said gunfire was heard from the building.

Police loudspeakers declared a curfew around Mumbai's landmark Taj Mahal hotel, and black-clad commandos ran into the building as fresh gunshots rang out from the area, apparently the beginning of an assault on gunmen who had taken hostages in the hotel.

Ambulances were seen driving up to the entrance to the hotel and journalists were made to move even farther back from the area. Soldiers outside the hotel said forces were moving slowly, from room to room, looking for gunmen and traps.

A series of explosions had rocked the Taj Mahal just after midnight. Screams were heard and black smoke billowed from the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront. Firefighters sprayed water at the blaze and plucked people from balconies with extension ladders. By dawn, the fire was still burning.

At the upscale Oberoi hotel soldiers could be seen on the roof of neighboring buildings. A banner hung out of one window read "save us." No one could be seen inside the room from the road.

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans at the hotels and restaurant, witnesses said.

Alex Chamberlain, a British citizen who was dining at the Oberoi, told Sky News television that a gunman ushered 30 to 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and, speaking in Hindi or Urdu, ordered everyone to put up their hands.

“They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: ‘Where are you from?’” and he said he’s from Italy and they said ‘fine’ and they left him alone. And I thought: ‘Fine, they’re going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn’t,” he said.

Chamberlain said he managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

The motive for the onslaught was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

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