Commandos enter Mumbai Jewish centre
The building was cloaked with thick smoke after the blast, television pictures showed, as commandos engaged in what appeared to be a final offensive to free the hostages inside.
A commando team was dropped by helicopter on to the roof early this morning as the violence that has left at least 143 dead and hundreds injured moved into its third day.
The gunmen, thought to number between three and seven, are believed to be isolated on the third and fourth floor of the five-storey building. It is feared they are holding up to six hostages, including the rabbi and his wife.
There were also further explosions at the Taj Mahal hotel, one of the two luxury hotels seized by militants in the violence that began late on Wednesday night. Fresh assaults are underway in an attempt to flush out the remaining militants.
Gunmen in the hotel are thought to be using hostages as human shields on a darkened, upper floor where the power supply has been cut. Smoke was seen billowing from the roof.
At least one militant was believed to be inside the ballroom, security official ML Kumawat said.
The Indian army said two militants were killed at the Oberoi hotel – now said to be in the control of the Indian commandos – and a total of nine shot dead in the city. As many as 25 terrorists may have taken part in the assault.
The overall death toll is expected to rise further. Neville Bharucha, from the Parsi ambulance service, said bodies inside the hotel could not be recovered because terrorists were still at large.
“There are dead bodies in the old Taj building,” he said, as he stood outside the hotel. “They are all lying there, they are the guests. We can’t recover the bodies because of the terrorists. They are still holding human shields”
Near the Mumbai police commissioner’s office fresh fighting broke out. Two young schoolgirls died in the incident, according to hospital sources.
The mayhem has left the skyline of India’s financial capital smoking. Mumbai, a metropolis of 19 million people, has been reduced to a ghost town – with many international firms cancelling travel and closing offices.
World leaders were quick to condemn the attacks. The US president-elect, Barack Obama, vowed the US would work with “India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks”.
Recently improved relations between Pakistan and India were under strain after the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, pointed the finger of blame at “external forces”. He said New Delhi would “take up strongly” the use of neighbours’ territory to launch attacks on India.
India’s external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee, was more pointed: “According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks,” he asserted. “Proof cannot be disclosed at this time.”
One captured militant was reported to be a Pakistani national. The accusations raised fears that the peace process between the two nuclear rivals would stall.
The Indian navy also intercepted two Pakistani merchant vessels off the coast of Gujarat. It is believed that some of the terrorists arrived in Mumbai on Wednesday night by boat, and the navy was last night searching for the ship that dropped them there.
Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, condemned the attack as “detestable”. He has agreed to send the head of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to India to share information on the attacks, following a request by Singh.
Two Scotland Yard officers were on their way to Mumbai to help the authorities. The Foreign Office said it was investigating claims that some of attackers were British-born Pakistanis.
It was clear that foreign targets, especially those from the US and UK, had been singled out. One of the first targets was the Cafe Leopold, a famous hangout popular with foreign tourists.
The attackers also picked off British and US citizens in the luxury hotels. Television pictures showed how bloody and brazen the attackers were: two men were shown shooting at random as they drove through streets in a stolen police jeep.
Many hotel guests simply barricaded themselves into their rooms and hoped for the best. Yasmin Wong, a CNN employee who was staying in the Taj, told the news network that she hid under her bed for several hours after she was awoken by gunfire. She said she received a phone call from the hotel telling her to turn her light off, put a wet towel by the door and stay in her room until she was told otherwise.
The Foreign Office confirmed that one Briton, 73-year-old Andreas Liveras, had died in the attack. A shipping tycoon, he was shot dead apparently moments after speaking to the BBC from a basement.
Two Australians, a Japanese woman, an Italian, and three Germans also died. But the majority of those killed were ordinary Indians as they boarded trains and ate meals. At least 315 people were injured.
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