Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Coordinated Terrorist Attacks in Mumbai

Terrorists have carried out a series of attacks and taken hostages in Mumbai, the financial capital of India:

At least seven sites have been targeted across the south of the city by terrorists armed with explosives and automatic weapons. Gunmen struck at several high-profile tourist areas in the city, including hotels, a popular tourist cafe and a crowded train station. It is unclear exactly how many people have been killed and injured, but police say at least 80 have died and 250 have been hurt. A major fire broke out at the scene of one of the attacks, the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, where some people are still trapped and rescuers are trying to reach them. Others are being held hostage elsewhere across the city, reports say.

The terrorists struck a variety of targets in a coordinated fashion.

Instead of anonymously planted bombs, as in the previous attacks, the assailants on Wednesday night were spectacularly well-armed and confrontational. Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister for Maharashtra State, where Mumbai is located, told the private CNN-IBN station that the attacks hit five to seven targets, concentrated in the southern tip of the city, known as Colaba and Nariman Point. In some cases, the state’s highest ranking police official, A.N. Roy, said the attackers opened fire and disappeared. Indian officials said police killed four of the suspected attackers and captured nine, The Associated Press reported.

Around midnight, more than two hours into the serial attacks began, television images from near the historic Metro Cinema showed journalists and spectators ducking for cover as gunshots rang out. Television footage showed the charred shell of a car in front of Victoria Terminus railway station. A nearby gas station was blown up. The landmark Leopold’s CafĂ©, a favorite tourist haunt, was also hit. Around 1 a.m., two guests trapped inside the Taj hotel, next to the iconic Gateway of India, said by telephone that they heard a fresh explosion and gunfire in the old wing of the hotel.

A 31-year-old man who was inside the Taj attending a friend’s wedding reception said he was getting a drink around 9:45 p.m. when he heard something like firecrackers — “loud bursts” interspersed with what then sounded like machine-gun fire. A window of the banquet hall shattered, and guests scattered under tables and were quickly escorted to another room in the hotel, he said. No one was allowed to leave. Just before 1 a.m., another loud explosion rang out and then another about a half hour later, said the man inside the Taj. His friend, the groom, was two floors above him, in the old wing of the hotel, trapped in a room with his wife. One of the explosions, he said by telephone, took the door off its hinges. He blocked it with a table. Then came another, and gunfire rang out throughout the evening.

A British businessman, Ashok Patel, who escaped the Taj, told a local television station that two young men armed with a rifle and a machine gun took 15 people hostage, forcing them to the hotel roof. The gunmen, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, “were saying they wanted anyone with British or American passports,” he said.

No one seems to know exactly how many terrorists are involved in the attacks, though it appears to be a relatively low figure for the amount of damage and carnage caused and some are reported to have been killed or captured. Although Mumbai was the scene of train bombings that killed over 200 people in 2006 and were attributed to the Kashmiri militant group Lashkar-Toiba, a previously unknown group called the Deccan Mujahadeen have claimed responsibility for these attacks.

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