Indian forces kill last gunmen in Mumbai

Indian soldier

An indian soldier prepares to move in on the smoking Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in the final stages of the seige

Officials say the death toll in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai has risen to 195 as more bodies have been discovered after commandos ended the siege on a luxury hotel.

Indian commandos killed the last remaining gunmen holed up at a luxury Mumbai hotel Saturday, ending a 60-hour rampage through India’s financial capital.

Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 565-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn Saturday as Indian forces ended the siege in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found six hostages dead.

“There were three terrorists, we have killed them,” said J.K. Dutt, director general of India’s elite National Security Guard commando unit.

At least 16 foreigners and 20 soldiers and police were among the dead. Some 295 people were also wounded in the violence.

Explosions continued rock the hotel after the battle as soldiers blasted open doors and detonated explosives found on the gunmen as they swept the hotel once more looking for survivors and booby traps left by the militants.

Some hotel guests were still believed to be in their rooms. “They are still scared, so even when we request them to come out and identify ourselves, they are naturally afraid,” said Dutt.

Outside, anxious relatives stood in groups hoping family members trapped inside would walk out. Many had been keeping a vigil since the attack began.

At first, waiter Joseph Joy Pulithara thought the blasts were rows of liquor bottles exploding for some reason behind the Mumbai hotel’s sleek bar. Running to the scene, he found a woman screaming — and a young man spraying gunfire.

The gunman was a member of a team that was well-armed, well-prepared and had just begun a two-day siege that would shut down India’s financial and entertainment capital, leave more than 150 people dead and 370 injured, and turn the city’s ritzy seaside district into a scene of horror.

There was almost no time to escape. “Within two minutes, they were on us,” Andreina Varagona of Nashville, Tenn., said from her hospital bed in the intensive care unit. Wounded in the right leg and right arm, her curly brown hair was still caked with a friend’s blood two days later.

An Indian commando said the attackers were indiscriminate. “Whoever came in front of them, they fired.”

Inside the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi hotels, with their hundreds of rooms, the gunmen often seemed to have the advantage.

“These people were very, very familiar with the hotel layouts and it appears they had carried out a survey before,” said an unidentified member of India’s Marine Commando unit, his face wrapped in a black mask.

The gunmen moved skillfully through corridors slick with blood, thwarting efforts to pin them down, and switched off lights and plunged the rooms into darkness to further confuse the commandos.

The militants were ready for a long siege. One backpack the commandos found had 400 rounds of ammunition inside. Some of the gunmen carried almonds. They also had dollars, rupees and credit cards from local and international banks.

The commandos were hampered, too, because they could not use overwhelming force for fear of hitting the hundreds of civilians who were caught in the hotels.

Many guests hid in their rooms until they were rescued. Others were not so lucky.

The gunmen “appeared to be a determined lot, wanting to create and spread terror,” a commando said.

Pulithara found panicked diners and staff running through the hotel bar. In the chaos, it took him a moment to realize he had been shot.

“My friend said there was a hole in my pants, and I was bleeding,” said Pulithara, 22, who was hit in the leg.

He saw another colleague shot in the head — “She died on the spot,” he said — but he said he managed to pull a tourist to safety through a fire exit. Then he ran down a flight of stairs, and was free.

For hundreds of others inside the hotels, however, the ordeal was just beginning.

By Saturday morning the death toll was at 195, the deadliest attack in India since the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai killed 257 people. But officials said the toll from the three days of carnage was likely to rise as more bodies were brought out of the hotels.

With the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India’s history, attention turned from the military operation to questions of who was behind the attack and the heavy toll on human life.

Even as the battle ended, Indians began burying their dead, many of them security force members killed fighting the gunmen.

In the southern city of Bangalore, black-clad commandos formed an honor guard as the flag-draped coffin of Maj. Gen. Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the fighting at the Taj, passed by. “He gave up his own life to save the others,” said Dutt.

Bhushan Gagrani, the Maharashtra state government spokesman, told The Associated Press at least 11 gunmen had been killed and one captured alive after the attack that shook the city and the country.

“There is a limit a city can take. This is a very, very different kind of fear. It will be sometime before things get back to normal,” said Ayesha Dar, a 33-year-old homemaker.

Authorities scrambled to identify those responsible for the unprecedented attack, with Indian officials pointing across the border at rival Pakistan, and Pakistani leaders promising to cooperate in the investigation. A team of FBI agents was ordered to fly to India to help investigate.

The attack was claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen, but Indian officials pointed the finger at neighboring Pakistan.

On Saturday the Indian navy said it was investigating whether a trawler found drifting off the coast of Mumbai, with a bound corpse on board, was used in the attack

Navy spokesman Capt. Manohar Nambiar said the trawler, called “Kuber,” was found Thursday and brought to Mumbai. Television footage showed a bound body lying face down on the deck.

Media reports said the man was the boat’s skipper and had been killed when the trawler was hijacked after it sailed from Karachi, Pakistan. That could not be immediately confirmed.

Indian security officers believe many of the gunmen may have reached the city from a boat using a black and yellow rubber dinghy found near the site of the attacks.

India’s foreign minister said the blame appeared to point to Pakistan. “According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks,” Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.

Jaiprakash Jaiswal, India’s home minister, said the captured gunmen had been identified as a Pakistani.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani insisted on Friday that his country was not involved. On Saturday Pakistan withdrew a pledge to send its spy chief to India to help probe the attacks.

Zahid Bashir, a spokesman for Gilani, told The Associated Press on Saturday a lower-ranking intelligence official would travel instead.

President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. “These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India’s great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them,” he said in a statement.

The attackers were well-prepared, apparently scouting some targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.

India has been shaken repeatedly by terror attacks blamed on Muslim militants in recent years, but this was more sophisticated — and more brazen.

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