The operation to dislodge militants at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai is over and all militants have been shot dead, the city's police chief said early Saturday. Almost 200 people were killed in the attacks, according to Mumbai officials.
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Reuters - Commandos killed the last Islamist gunmen holed up at Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel on Saturday, ending a three-day rampage and siege that killed at least 195 people and is already being described as India's 9/11.
At least three militants and one trooper were killed after a running gunbattle through a maze of corridors, rooms and halls, the country's commando chief, Jyoti Krishna Dutt, told reporters crowded outside the battle-scarred 105-year-old hotel.
The gunmen had set parts of the hotel ablaze as they played cat and mouse with scores of India's best-trained commandos, known as the Black Cats.
Sniffer dogs were taken into the famous hotel and workers wearing surgical masks arrived to remove bodies. Some commandos did a final sweep of the rooms, while others boarded buses to pull out, looking exhausted.
Many guests had been trapped in their rooms while the battle raged around them. They have emerged to harrowing scenes.
"The blood, everywhere the blood," an American woman called Patricia told the NDTV news channel, choking back tears. "And when we came down to the lobby, all the hundreds and hundreds of policemen were standing there looking so fried and so sad."
Black streaks of soot stained the grey bricks, white balconies and red-tiled roofs of the hotel's facade.
The ground floor was gutted, the wood-panelled walls blackened and cracked by explosions and fire.
Wine glasses and soup bowls were scattered on the floor, a charred gilt chandelier broken in pieces on a carpet and shattered glass strewn throughout the Taj's boutique shops.
"At one time it was so magnificent. We were admiring it, sitting in the swing near the pool," Patricia said.
"At one moment it was just serene and sensational, and the next, it was all gone," she said.
Nine of the attackers were killed, a tenth caught alive. He told interrogators they wanted to go down in history for an Indian 9/11, and were also inspired by the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in September, Times Now TV said, quoting an unidentified defence ministry official.
India has blamed the strike on "elements" from Pakistan, raising tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. Pakistan said the two countries faced a common enemy and it would send a representative of its spy agency to share intelligence.
But Islamabad backtracked from an earlier promise to send the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a move unlikely to calm Indian tempers and raise fresh questions about who is in charge of the shadowy agency.
The Taj Mahal was the last battleground after three days of intense fighting in various parts of the city of 18 million.
Several newspapers said some of the militants had checked into the Taj hotel days or weeks before the attacks, while the Times of India said they had rented an apartment in the city a few months ago pretending to be students.
On Friday, an army general said the gunmen appeared to be very familiar with the hotel's layout and were well trained.
"At times we found them matching us in combat and movement," one commando told the Hindustan Times. "They were either army regulars or have done a long stint of commando training."
Mumbai disaster authorities said at least 195 people had been killed and 295 wounded, the death toll rising as bodies were collected from the luxury Taj and nearby Trident-Oberoi hotels, scene of another siege that ended on Friday.
Well-dressed but haggard-looking guests were let back into their rooms in the Trident wing of the Trident-Oberoi on Saturday morning to collect their belongings.
Staff said they would re-open that wing on Wednesday but not the Oberoi wing, which was badly damaged by a long gunbattle.
The Trident lobby was covered in broken glass, with bullet holes in the glass stair bannisters and in the doors leading into the Opium bar. A grand piano was left unscathed, but cars parked outside were also riddled with bullet holes.
The attacks struck at the heart of Mumbai, the engine room of an economic boom that has made India a favourite emerging market.
It is also home to the "Bollywood" film industry, the epitome of glamour in a country blighted by poverty.
An Indian state minister said the arrested militant was a Pakistani national and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned of "a cost" if India's neighbours did not take action to stop their territory being used to launch attacks.
The arrested man has confessed to being a member of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, which has long fought Indian forces in disputed Kashmir and was blamed for an attack on India's parliament in December 2001, newspapers said.
But Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi struck a conciliatory note and promised full cooperation.
"Whoever has done this is neither your friend nor our friend," he told reporters in New Delhi. "We are not responsible for this, nor is it in our interest to get involved in something like this."
The attackers were armed with rifles and grenades. Some arrived by sea on Wednesday night before fanning out to attack sites popular with tourists and business executives.
Authorities said 18 foreigners were among the dead, including three Germans, five Americans, one Australian, a Briton, one Canadian, two French, an Israeli, an Italian, a Japanese, a Singaporean and a Thai.
Date created : 2008-11-29