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Troops clash with militants to free hostages in Mumbai

Video by Louis MASSIE

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2008-11-27

Indian army troops are battling armed militants who are believed to be holding hostages at multiple locations in Mumbai. Police say hundreds of people have been wounded in a series of coordinated attacks across the city.

Also read: 'Citizen journalism' offers intimate view of Mumbai attacks


Indian army commandos were Thursday battling heavily-armed Islamist gunmen who launched coordinated attacks against luxury hotels and other targets in Mumbai, killing at least 100 people.
Maharashtra state police chief A.N. Roy said troops were fighting their way through the city's famous Taj Mahal hotel. The attackers were also still believed to be holding hostages in another hotel and an office-residential complex.
Gunmen from the little-known Deccan Mujahedeen group, who claimed responsibility for the attacks, exchanged fire with commandos and explosions could be heard, AFP photographers and reporters on scene said.
Americans, Israelis and Canadians are thought to be among those trapped in the two hotels and in Nariman House, a residential complex with an old Jewish prayer hall where a rabbi and his family were also being held.
"No negotiations or talks have started with the terrorists," Maharashtra state deputy chief minister R.R. Patil told reporters.
Television signals to both hotels have been switched off to prevent the hostage takers getting wind of any operations to storm the buildings, he added.
Eight other locations, including Mumbai's main train station, a hospital and a popular restaurant, were hit late Wednesday. The gunmen reportedly landed in Mumbai by boat.
One of the gunmen holed up in the Trident 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.
Police said around 100 people were killed in the precisely targeted assaults by small groups of gunmen armed with AK-47s and grenades that began around 10:30 pm (1700 GMT).
Up to 300 other people were also reported wounded.
A Briton, Japanese and Australian were confirmed dead, the Press Trust of India news agency said.
Frequent bursts of gunfire in and around the two five-star hotels continued to be heard through Thursday morning, as south Mumbai, including the normally thriving main business hub between the two scenes, was shut down.
The main Bombay Stock Exchange, itself hit by a terror attack in 1993, was also closed, as were shops, schools and businesses.
An official told AFP that the England cricket team had decided to abandon their tour of India and return home following the attacks.
Army commandos stormed the Taj under the cover of night, apparently leading to the release of some guests inside, with television footage showing people being shepherded out of the building.
Shortly afterwards, the upper floors of the hotel became engulfed in flames.
Fire engines were brought in to rescue trapped guests through the windows of their rooms, where they had sought refuge from the shooting.
Earlier, several men stormed the passenger hall of Mumbai's main Chhatrapati Shivaji railway station, firing indiscriminately and throwing grenades.
Firing was also reported at Cama Hospital in south Mumbai, and three people were reported killed in what police called a "bomb blast" in a taxi in the southeast of the city.
One British guest at the Taj, Rakesh Patel, was among a dozen people herded together by two heavily-armed men and taken to the hotel's upper floors.
"They were very young, like boys really, wearing jeans and T-shirts," he said.
"They said they wanted anyone with British and American passports and then they took us up the stairs. I think they wanted to take us to the roof," he said, adding that he and another hostage managed to escape on the 18th floor.
British businessman Alex Chamberlain told the Sky News television that similar national profiling had been conducted by the gunmen in the Oberoi.
"They told everybody to stop and put their hands up and asked if there were any British or Americans. My friend said to me, 'don't be a hero, don't say you are British'," Chamberlain said.
Indian President Pratibha Patil, in Vietnam on an official visit, described the attack as "the work of those who have no regard for human life."
The United States and Britain led global condemnation, with Washington describing the attacks as "horrific", and US president-elect Barack Obama pledging to work with India to "root out and destroy terrorist networks".
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the "outrageous" attacks would be met with a "vigorous response".
India has witnessed a wave of coordinated attacks in recent months.
A little-known Islamic group, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for serial blasts last month in India's northeast state of Assam that claimed nearly 80 lives.
Six weeks earlier, the capital New Delhi had been hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 dead. Those blasts were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen.


Date created : 2008-11-27