MUMBAI: November 27, 2008. (AFP) Indian commandos battled into the early hours of Friday to end a multiple hostage crisis in Mumbai after suspected Pakistan-based Islamic militants killed 125 people across the city.
Officials said they had almost totally cleared the luxury Taj Mahal hotel where gunmen had been holed up for more than 24 hours after their rampage of gunfire and grenade blasts.
Thirty-nine people were rescued from the five-star Oberoi/Trident hotel, where "mopping up" operations were still underway, police said.
Security forces were also trying to secure an office-residential complex that houses a Jewish centre, where an uncertain number of Israelis were believed to be trapped or held hostage. Two explosions were heard at the site early Friday.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the militants had come from "outside the country," while the military official leading the operation to flush them out, Major General R.K. Hooda, said they were from arch-rival Pakistan.
The Press Trust of India said one Pakistani militant had been detained, although Pakistan's government fiercely denied any involvement.
More than 24 hours after the attacks began, military officials said special forces had successfully cleared the landmark Taj Mahal Palace hotel of all but one injured gunman.
"I think we should be able to mop up the operation very quickly," National Security Guards director general J.K. Dutt said.
At the Oberoi-Trident, an aide to Mumbai police commissioner A N Roy said commandos were still "engaged in mopping up operations and looking for other people who might be still in there."
"Around 39 people have been brought out, some of them are foreigners," he said. "We cannot yet say whether the hotel is... 100 percent clear of terrorists."
Scores of guests had been trapped in their rooms -- too terrified to move.
"We've been waiting for hours and hours for the army to come and say we can go downstairs," said a Western woman, contacted by AFP on her mobile phone late on Thursday, from inside the Oberoi/Trident.
"We have to keep silent. They could be looking for hostages," she said.
Indian media reports said between six and nine foreign nationals were among the dead in Mumbai -- including a Japanese businessman, an Australian, a Briton , a German and an Italian.
The Israeli embassy said around 10-20 Israeli nationals were among those held hostage or trapped.
Guests who escaped the hotels recounted how the gunmen had specifically tried to round up US and British citizens.
At least five gunmen had been shot dead and one captured, police said. Fourteen security personnel were also killed, including the head of Mumbai's anti-terror squad.
In an audacious operation apparently tailored to gain maximum international attention, the militants used small groups to attack a total of about a dozen targets in India's financial hub , including the main railway station, a hospital and a restaurant popular with tourists.
In an address to the nation, the Indian prime minister said the attacks were clearly "well-planned and well-orchestrated" and warned "neighbours" who provided a haven to anti-India militants that there would "be a cost" to pay.
An unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility, with one gunman telling an Indian TV channel by phone that the outfit was of Indian origin and motivated by the treatment of Indian Muslims.
But the PTI news agency said Indian officials were pointing the finger at the Pakistan-backed Lashkar-e-Taiba -- notorious for a deadly assault on the Indian parliament in 2001 that almost pushed India and Pakistan to war.
The agency said the Pakistani detainee told Indian investigators that a group of 12 militants had been dropped off by a merchant vessel 10 nautical miles outside Indian waters, and had reached Mumbai in a small speedboat.
Home ministry sources said two Pakistani merchant vessels had been detained off the Indian coast.
Mumbai police chief Hassan Gafoor said more than 125 people had died. "The situation is very fluid and the toll could rise further," he told AFP.
Up to 327 people were reported wounded.
The main Bombay Stock Exchange was closed until further notice, as were shops, schools and businesses.
England's cricketers abandoned their ongoing one-day series against India and opted to fly home.
Prime Minister Singh said the aim had clearly been to spread panic by choosing high profile targets and "indiscriminately killing foreigners."
Witnesses said the gunmen had been very particular in their choice of hotel hostages.
"They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports," said one British guest at the Taj, Rakesh Patel.