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Terror strike stuns India

BOMBAY, India — Coordinated terror attacks struck the heart of Bombay, India's commercial capital, on Wednesday night, killing dozens in machine-gun and grenade assaults on three five-star hotels, the city's largest train station, a movie theater and a hospital.

Police in the city, which is also known as Mumbai, said the attacks killed at least 82 people and wounded 240, according to preliminary reports.

Police reported hostages being held at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel and the Oberoi Hotel, two of the best-known upscale destinations in this crowded but wealthy city. The third hotel attacked was the Ramada, to the north, but there were no immediate reports of significant damage there.

Gunmen who burst into the Taj "were targeting foreigners. They kept shouting: 'Who has U.S. or U.K. passports?' " said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who fled from the hotel.

Authorities believed seven to 15 foreigners were hostages at the Taj, but it was not clear if hostages at the Oberoi were Indians or foreigners, said Anees Ahmed, a top state official.

In Washington, the State Department condemned the attacks, as did President-elect Obama's transition team. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said U.S. officials were not aware of any American casualties.

Even by the standards of terrorism in India, which has suffered a rising number of terrorist attacks this year, the assaults were brazen and dramatically different in their scale and execution. The attackers used boats to reach the urban peninsula where they hit, and their targets were sites popular with tourists.

The identity of the attackers was not clear. A group calling itself the Deccan Mujaheddin asserted responsibility for the attacks in the e-mails. Intelligence officials said they thought it was a new group and were unsure of its aims or identity. The purported group's name apparently refers to the Deccan Plateau, an area that spans eight states and covers much of central and southern India. The term "mujaheddin" suggests the attackers are Muslim extremists.

Gunfire and explosions rang out well into the night. Hours after the assaults began, the landmark Taj, next to the iconic Gateway of India, was in flames. Guests banged on the windows of the upper floors as firefighters worked to rescue them. Fire also raged inside the Oberoi, according to police.

Some guests, including two members of the European Parliament who were part of a trade delegation, remained in hiding in the warrens of the hotels, making desperate cell phone calls, some of them to television stations, describing their ordeal.

Sajjad Karim, 38, a British member of the European Parliament, told Sky News: "A gunman just stood there spraying bullets around, right next to me."

"I managed to turn away and I ran into the hotel kitchen and then we were shunted into a restaurant in the basement," he said until his phone went dead. "We are now in the dark in this room and we have barricaded all the doors. It's really bad."

Attackers also entered Cama and Abless Hospital and the Trident Hotel, according to Indian television reports.

Vilasrao Deshmukh, the chief minister for Maharashtra state, where Bombay is located, told the CNN-IBN station that the attacks were concentrated in the southern tip of the city, known as Colaba and Nariman Point.

R.R. Patil, chief of internal security for Maharashtra, said the gunmen came from the sea Wednesday evening, and a boat laden with explosives was later seized by police.

An image of a gunman broadcast on television showed a young man with curly hair, a blue rucksack slung over his shoulder, wielding an AK-47 assault rifle, and wearing a black half-sleeved T-shirt and jeans.

Another security camera image captured at the train station showed two young men wearing jackets and backpacks, each carrying a weapon. The floors of the station were stained with blood where the gunmen had fired at the crowd.

Officials confirmed that six attackers were killed and nine suspects detained. Eleven police officers, including the chief of Bombay's counterterrorism squad, Hemant Karkare, died in the fighting at the hotels.

Indian military forces arrived outside the Oberoi early today, and about 100 officers from the central government's Rapid Action Force, an elite police unit, entered later. CNN-IBN reported the sounds of gunfire from the hotel just after the police contingent went in.

Bombay has suffered several major terror attacks in recent years. In 1993, a suspected Muslim organized crime network bombed the stock exchange, trains, hotels and gas stations, apparently in retaliation for Muslim deaths in religious clashes the year before. Those bombings killed more than 250 and injured more than 1,000.

In 2003, 52 people were killed in another set of bombings blamed on Muslim militants. In July 2006, a series of bombs planted inside commuter trains killed 187 people.

Information from the Associated Press, the New York Times and the Washington Post was used in this report.

Terror strike stuns India 11/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 10:30am]
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