29 Nov 2008

Mumbai police end siege at Taj Mahal hotel

10:12 pm on 29 November 2008

Indian commandos killed the last Islamist gunmen holed up at Mumbai's Taj Mahal hotel on Saturday, ending a three-day battle at landmarks across India's financial capital that killed at least 195 people.

"Taj is under our control," Mumbai police chief Hasan Gafoor said, shortly after the building was raked by heavy gunfire as flames leapt from windows.

Indian police say 10 militants infiltrated Mumbai for this week's attacks. Nine have been killed and one captured.

The violence has injured at least 295 people, including the head of Mumbai's police anti-terror squad Hemant Karkare, who was buried on Saturday.

Fifteen foreigners are known to have died, including victims from Germany, Japan, Canada, Australia, Italy, Britain and Singapore.

Three militants and one trooper were killed on Saturday after a running gun battle through a maze of corridors, rooms and halls, the country's commando chief Jyoti Krishna Dutt said.

The gunmen had set parts of the Taj Mahal 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 105-year-old historic hotel and ambulances arrived. Some commandos did a final sweep of the 400 rooms, searching for survivors, while others boarded buses to pull out, looking exhausted.

There has been no word on the fate of hostages, or any remaining guests who might have been trapped in the hotel.

Extremely heavy and sustained gunfire was heard inside the hotel shortly before 7.30am local time, as soldiers rushed into the lobby to try to flush out the remaining few gunmen.

The waterfront hotel was the last battleground after days of intense fighting in various parts of the city of 18 million. Fighting also appeared to have ended at the other key flashpoints.

On Friday, elite Indian troops stormed a Jewish centre and another luxury hotel, the Trident-Oberoi. They killed two gunmen at the Jewish centre, but failed to save the lives of five hostages, including a New York-based rabbi and his wife. Their young son survived.

The commandos freed 143 hostages at the Trident-Oberoi, including foreign tourists and businessmen who emerged with harrowing stories of the bloodshed inside. Two gunmen were killed.

The standoffs began late on Wednesday when gunmen armed with automatic weapons and grenades opened fire indiscriminately on crowds at a major railway station, the two hotels, the Jewish centre, a hospital and a cafe frequented by foreigners.

A claim of responsibility for this week's attacks - the worst in India's commercial capital since nearly 200 people were killed in a series of bombings in 2006 - has been made by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

However, most intelligence officials are keeping an open mind as the attacks have thrown up conflicting clues, the BBC reports.

The Times of India, quoting from interrogation reports of a captured militant, reported that nine of the gunmen posing as Malaysian students had visited Mumbai some months previously for reconnaissance.

British officials say authorities in Delhi now indicate there was no evidence that any of the gunmen were British.

Previous attacks

Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) has been the target of attacks before, including bomb blasts in 1993 that killed at least 260 people at the stock exchange and other landmarks.

More than 180 people died when commuter trains were bombed on 11 July 2006.

A bomb on a commuter train killed 11 people on 13 March, 2003. Two car bombs killed about 60 people on 25 August, 2003.