Al Jazeera : Troops storm Mumbai Jewish centre

Friday, November 28, 2008

Troops storm Mumbai Jewish centre

November 28, 2008

Security forces in the Indian city of Mumbai have stormed a Jewish centre in an attempt to flush out attackers who had taken part in deadly co-ordinated attacks across the city.

The security operation at the headquarters of Chabad Lubavitch comes after at least 130 people were killed in a series of assaults across Mumbai, India's financial capital.

Early on Friday, Indian television showed troops descending from a helicopter into Nariman House, which houses Chabad Lubavitch's headquarters.

The attackers had holed themselves up inside the building more than 24 hours earlier.

Snipers stationed in buildings opposite the centre began the security operation against the attackers.

Nearby troops provided covering gunfire as at least nine commandos lowered themselves by rope onto the roof of Nariman House from an Indian air force helicopter.

It was not immediately clear if there were hostages in the building or their fate.

Two workers and a child escaped from the building on Thursday, the only people to emerge so far.

The child was identified as Moshe Holtzberg, two, the son of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, the main representative at Chabad house.

Still holed up

Elsewhere in Mumbai, commandos searched two luxury hotels which police said fighters were still occupying along with an unknown number of hostages.

Sporadic gunfire and explosions at the Taj Mahal Palace and the Trident-Oberoi hotels dwindled overnight, indicating the sieges there might be winding down.

Army Commander Lieutenant-General N Thamburaj said on Friday that at least one attacker may still be holding two hostages in the Taj Mahal hotel.

He said almost all guests and staff had been evacuated from the Taj and that the security operation would be wrapped up there in a few hours.

Ratan Tata, who runs the company that owns the Taj Mahal hotel, said the attackers had detailed knowledge of the layout of the buildings.

The strikes by small bands of armed men starting on Wednesday night shocked Mumbai, the nerve-centre of India's growing economic might and home to the Bollywood film industry.

At least eight foreigners, including an Australian, a Briton, an Italian and a Japanese national, have been killed.

Seven attackers have been killed and nine suspects taken into custody, police have said.

Twelve policemen, including the head of Mumbai's counter-terrorism force, have also been killed, police say.

Little activity

Al Jazeera's Riz Khan, reporting from outside the Trident-Oberoi, where gunfire had been heard throughout Thursday, said things were quiet just before dawn on Friday.

Dozens of people, including foreigners, were evacuated from the Trident-Oberoi Hotel.

Sohail Rahman, reporting for Al Jazeera from outside the hotel, said there has been "very little activity from the security personnel as far as we know".

"About two hours ago there was a sound of a very large thud and people wondered whether there was some sort of military operation ongoing; whether they [security forces] were going to take the hotel," he said.

"It's been very unclear what stage the security personnel have been able to sweep the hotel.

"They started over 12 hours ago on Thursday combing room by room, floor by floor, trying to secure the building before they can catch the attackers still holding those hostages."

Our correspondent said Indian government officials have been "very tight-lipped about the progress of the special forces at the locations where these attacks have happened".

"They are only giving out information as and when they can confirm it. They are making sure that they have a very tight lid on the information that is filtered out to the media," he said.

"So it is very difficut to asses exactly at what stage any of these forces or government officials are at in terms of planning in retaking buildings."

A US investigative team is heading to Mumbai, a state department official said on Thursday evening.

Media speculation

Meanwhile, the Indian media, citing unidentified police investigators, reported on Friday that three alleged attackers had confessed to being members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based group which aims to end Indian rule in Kashmir.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, which means army of God, had earlier denied any role in the attacks.

The Hindu newspaper said interrogation of the suspects revealed that Lashkar operatives had left Karachi in Pakistan in a merchant ship early on Wednesday and went ashore at Mumbai on a small boat before splitting up into teams to attack multiple locations.

Earlier, a little known group calling itself the Deccan Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for the attack in emails to news organisations.

Dipankar Banerjee, a retired Indian general, told Al Jazeera that said he does not rule out the possibility that the Indian Mujahedeen, blamed for previous attacks, were responsible for the Mumbai assaults.

In a speech on Thursday, Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, blamed "external forces", a phrase sometimes used to refer to Pakistan-based fighters.

Pakistan, for its part, has condemned the attacks and promised to provide Delhi with full co-operation in an investigation.

Mahan Abedin, an insurgency analyst, told Al Jazeera: "We have seen an increase in recent years in indigenous Indian Muslim organisations beginning to take a violent stance towards the Indian state and sections of the Indian society, particularly the commercial elite of places like Mumbai, in order to highlight, they would say, the sheer inequality of life in India.

"There is a middle class of around 100 million who live very well but 800 million-plus people live in miserable conditions."