Mumbai terror rage ends after 60 hours, 195 dead

By: JENNY BARCHFIELD and RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM, Associated Press Writers
By: JENNY BARCHFIELD and RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM, Associated Press Writers

MUMBAI, India – A 60-hour terror rampage across India's financial capital ended Saturday when commandos killed the last three gunmen holed up in a luxury hotel engulfed in flames. At least 195 people died.

After the final siege ended, adoring crowds surrounded six buses near the hotel carrying weary, unshaven commandos, shaking their hands and giving them flowers. The commandos, dressed in black fatigues, said they had been ordered not to talk about the operation, but said they had not slept since the ordeal began. One sat sipping a bottle of water and holding a pink rose.

"What happened is disgusting," said Suresh Thakkar, 59, who reopened his clothing store behind the hotel Saturday for the first time since the attacks. "It will be harder to recover, but we will recover. Bombay people have a lot of spirit and courage." Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay.

Officials said they believe just 10 well-prepared gunmen were behind the attacks that brought the city of 18 million to its knees for three days.

"Nine were killed and one was captured," Maharshta state Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told reporters. "We are interrogating him." Another official said the captured attacker is Pakistani and the gunmen were constantly in touch with a foreign country.

With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India's history, authorities were searching for any remaining victims hiding in their hotel rooms and began to shift their focus to who was behind the attacks, which killed 18 foreigners including six Americans. At least 20 Indian soldiers and police were also among the dead.

A previously unknown Muslim group with a name suggesting origins inside India claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials said the sole surviving gunman was from Pakistan and pointed a finger of blame at their neighbor and rival.

Islamabad angrily denied involvement and initially promised to send its spy chief to India to assist in the investigation. But it withdrew that offer on Saturday, saying it would send a lower-ranked official instead.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari blamed the about-face on a "miscommunication" with India. However, the reversal followed sharp criticism from some opposition politicians and a cool response from the army, which controls the spy agency.

A team of FBI agents was on its way to India to help investigate, and President George W. Bush pledged full U.S. support.

"As the people of the world's largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the people of world's oldest democracy to stand by their side," Bush said at the White House.

About 300 people were wounded in the violence that started when heavily armed assailants attacked 10 sites across the city Wednesday night.

Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday as Indian forces ended the siege there in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found at least eight hostages dead.

The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was rescued Thursday by an employee who scooped him up as she fled the building.

At least two Israelis and another American were also killed in the Jewish center, said Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the Chabad Lubavitch movement, which ran the center.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said eight bodies had been found in the center and officials were investigating whether there is a ninth victim.

Among the foreigners killed in the attacks were six Americans, the U.S. Embassy said. The dead also included Germans, Canadians, Israelis and nationals from Britain, Italy, Japan, China, Thailand, Australia and Singapore.

The carnage began Wednesday at about 9:20 p.m. with shooters spraying gunfire across the Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station. For the next two hours, there was an attack roughly every 15 minutes — the Jewish center, a tourist restaurant, one hotel, then another, and two attacks on hospitals.

By Saturday morning the death toll was at 195, the deadliest attack in India since 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll was likely to rise as more bodies are found in the hotels.

Indians began cremating their dead. In the southern city of Bangalore, black-clad commandos formed an honor guard for the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj Mahal hotel.

"He gave up his own life to save the others," Dutt said from Mumbai.

A group called Deccan Mujahideen, which alludes to a region in southern India traditionally ruled by Muslim kings, claimed responsibility for the attack, but Indian officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan.

Deshmukh's deputy, R.R. Patil, identified the one captured gunman as a Pakistani national, Mohammad Ajmal Qasam. The gunmen had sophisticated equipment and used "GPS, mobile and satellite phones to communicate," Patil said.

"They were constantly in touch with a foreign country," he said, without naming the country.

The attackers were well-prepared, even carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.

Deshmukh said the attackers arrived by sea.

On Saturday the Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack.

Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said the trawler, named Kuber, had been found Thursday and was brought to Mumbai. Officials said they believe the boat had sailed from a port in the neighboring state of Gujarat.

Indian security officers believe many of the gunmen may have reached the city using a black and yellow rubber dinghy found near the site of the attacks.

On Friday, India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, told reporters that evidence indicated "some elements in Pakistan are responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks."

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted his country was not involved.

On Friday, commandos killed the last two gunmen inside the luxury Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said.

But in the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center.

For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch. At one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 1 TV that some of the victims found at the center had been bound.

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Associated Press writers Ravi Nessman, Erika Kinetz and Anita Chang contributed to this report from Mumbai, and Foster Klug and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed from Washington.


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