Indian commandos are battling militants thought to be holding hostages around Mumbai after attacks that left more than 125 dead. The French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said up to 25 French nationals were trapped but not hostages.
And watch our Top Story: 'Terror in Mumbai'
Army and police commandos stormed two luxury hotels in Mumbai on Thursday, where heavily-armed gunmen had taken up position after killing more than 125 people in landmark sites of India’s financial centre on Wednesday.
Gunmen claiming to belong to the Deccan Mujahideen, a so-far unknown group, stormed at least seven sites in India’s commercial capital late on Wednesday night.
More than 24 hours later, some 200 people were believed to have been trapped or taken hostage at the five-star Trident-Oberoi hotel, among them 15 Air France crew members, according to the hotel group’s vice president. Reporters said a fire broke out at one of the top floors of the building.
“The fighting continues at the Trident-Oberoi hotel. Hostages come staggering out of the building. This shows that there were people still inside the hotel when special forces launched their operations,” reports FRANCE 24’s Philippe Levasseur in Mumbai. “I heard the grenade explosions, shots coming from the hotel. The fighting seems particularly fierce.”
Mumbai police chief Hassan Gafoor told AFP that over 40 hostages had been rescued from the building.
According to local media, the gunmen have also reportedly eight people hostage in a Chabad Jewish centre, among them a rabbi and his wife. An army operation was underway on Thursday afternoon in the Nariman business and residential complex which houses the Jewish centre.
A militant holed up in the centre phoned an Indian television channel to offer talks with the government for the release of hostages, but also to complain about abuses in Indian Kashmir. "Ask the government to talk to us and we will release the hostages," an alleged attacker told a local TV station in Urdu.
Earlier on Thursday, three powerful blasts were heard in the two luxury hotels and in the Nariman House.
Blame game between India and Pakistan
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed the nation on Thursday afternoon to condemn the attacks. "The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of terror by choosing high-profile targets," he said.
In the past, India has frequently held groups based in Pakistan responsible for terrorist attacks. Relations between the two arch enemies have improved in recent years and Pakistani leaders have condemned the latest attacks.
Speaking to journalists in Mumbai, Major General R.K. Hooda said the militants had come into the country from Pakistan.
"They are from across the border and perhaps from Faridkot, Pakistan. They tried to pretend that they were from Hyderabad," he told reporters.
Pakistan's defence minister however denied his country had played any role in the attacks.
Ahmed Mukhtar was responding to an assertion by India's military.
"In previous cases they have acted like this, but later it all proved wrong," Mukhtar told AFP.
The militants reportedly fired automatic weapons indiscriminately and threw grenades before settling in the two hotels where they appeared to target foreign nationals. An Australian, an Italian, a Briton and a Japanese national were among those killed in the attacks, their governments said.
“Some British people who escaped one of the hotels said that hostage-takers were dividing the guests according to nationality and taking the British and US citizens to other parts of the hotel,” said AFP correspondent for FRANCE 24 Phil Hazlewood regarding events in one of the hotels.
Deccan Mujahideen, a little-known militant group
Experts say they have never heard of the Deccan Mujahideen group which claimed responsibility for the attacks in e-mails sent to Indian media outlets. FRANCE 24 obtained a copy of the email in which the Islamic militant group vowed to continue the attacks until the “suffering of Muslims stopped.” The author of the email wrote in Urdu and Hindi.
On Thursday, one of the gunmen holed up in the Trident-Oberoi hotel told the India TV channel by phone that they wanted an end to the persecution of Indian Muslims and the release of all fellow Islamic militants detained in India.
"Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country, but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?" he said from inside the hotel.
Date created : 2008-11-27