Nearly 80 killed in multiple Mumbai shootings, blasts


MUMBAI: November 26, 2008. (AFP) Nearly 80 people were killed in a series of coordinated attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai late Wednesday, as heavily armed Islamist militants hit two luxury hotels and took foreign guests hostage.

A group calling itself the "Deccan Mujahedeen" claimed responsibility for the assaults on the landmark Taj Mahal and Trident hotels in the south of the city and a number of shooting and bombing incidents elsewhere in the city. Maharashtra state chief secretary Johnny Joseph said 78 people had been killed. Estimates of the number of wounded ranged from 200 to 350. The focus of the coordinated assaults was the two upscale hotels, with gunmen taking an unknown number of foreign guests hostage and exchanging fire with anti-terrorist commando units. Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare was killed in one of the shootouts. Naval commandos stormed the Taj in the early hours of Thursday morning, apparently leading to the release of some guests inside, with television footage showing people being shepherded out of the building. Shortly afterwards, the upper floors of the landmark hotel became engulfed in flames and huge plumes of smoke billowed out from its distinctive red dome. It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze. Police said two gunmen were shot dead, but two more were still believed to be holed up inside the hotel. Fire engines were brought in and trapped guests were rescued from their bedroom windows. There was also a standoff at the Trident hotel, where at least two gunmen were believed to be holding out. Mumbai General Railway Police Commissioner A.K. Sharma said several men armed with AK-47 rifles had earlier stormed into the passenger hall of Mumbai's main Chhatrapati Shivaji railway and opened fire and thrown grenades. Elsewhere, firing was also reported at Cama Hospital in south Mumbai, and three people were reported killed in what police called a "bomb blast" in a taxi in the southeast of the city. One British guest at the Taj told local Indian television that he had been among a dozen people herded together by two heavily armed men and taken up to the hotel's upper floors. "They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts," the guest said. "They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports and then they took us up the stairs. I think they wanted to take us to the roof," he said, adding that he and another hostage managed to escape on the 18th floor. The Taj, opposite the British colonial era Gateway of India, is one of the world's leading hotels. The head of the Madrid government and a British member of the European Parliament were inside when the gunmen stormed the building but escaped unhurt. "All I saw was one man on foot carrying a machine gun-type of weapon -- which I then saw him firing from and I saw people hitting the floor, people right next to me," MEP Sajjad Karim was quoted as saying by the BBC website. A fellow MEP from Spain, Ignasi Guardans, spoke to Spain's Radio Nacional network as he took shelter in a restaurant. "The terrorists are driving around Mumbai shooting in the air and hurling grenades from cars," Guardans said. One Japanese was among the dead, the foreign ministry in Tokyo said, while at least two Australians were injured and a 20-person trade delegation from New South Wales was caught up in the violence, according to officials in Canberra. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced outrage at the attacks, which Interior Minister Shivraj Patil described as a "big conspiracy." US President-elect Barack Obama also condemned the attacks and pledged to strengthen ties with India and other nations to "root out and destroy terrorist networks." British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the attacks "outrageous," while France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, condemned them "in the strongest possible terms." India has witnessed a wave of coordinated attacks in recent months. A little-known Islamic group, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for serial blasts last month in India's northeast state of Assam that claimed nearly 80 lives. A total of 12 explosions shook the insurgency-hit state, six of them ripping through crowded areas in the main city of Guwahati. Six weeks earlier, the capital New Delhi had been hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 dead. Those blasts were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen.

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