... So that You may be kept informed

ASIA: Westerners targeted in Mumbai terror attacks: survivors

27 Nov 2008 12:44 PM

MUMBAI, India, Nov 26 AP/AAP - More than 80 people are dead after terrorists used grenades and automatic weapons to attack crowds at hotels, a restaurant and train station.

Teams of heavily-armed men launched coordinated attacks overnight that survivors said were aimed at killing Westerners.

Officials say at least 82 people have been killed, and at least 120 wounded, with an undetermined number of Western hostages still being held.

A previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks in emails to several media outlets, Indian media reported.

Parts of Mumbai remained under siege on Thursday, with police and gunmen exchanging occasional gunfire at two luxury hotels, with an unknown number of hostages still held, top police official AN Roy said.

A raging fire and explosions struck the landmark Taj Mahal hotel shortly after midnight. Screams could be heard and black smoke billowed from the century-old edifice on Mumbai's waterfront.

The attackers specifically targeted Britons and Americans, witnesses said. Officials said at least 120 people were wounded.

Two Australians were among the injured but their conditions were not life threatening, officials in Canberra said.

Early on Thursday, state home secretary Bipin Shrimali said four suspects had been killed in two incidents when they tried to flee in cars. Roy said two more gunmen were killed at the Taj Mahal. State Home Minister RR Patil said nine more were arrested.

Police said hostages were being held at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, two of the best-known upscale destinations in the crowded city.

Gunmen who burst into the Taj Mahal "were targeting foreigners. They kept shouting 'Who has US or UK passports?"' said Ashok Patel, a British citizen who fled from the hotel.

Australian actress Brooke Satchwell has told of her terror as she hid inside a tiny bathroom cupboard for about an hour as gunmen attacked the Taj Mahal.

She said she fled to the bathroom when she heard gunfire erupt in the foyer.

"People started to lock themselves in the toilet cubicles (but) at that point that didn't seem like a very clever idea, there was no way out," she told Network Ten.

The former Neighbours star opted to hide inside a cupboard. "It was really terrifying. There was people getting shot in the corridor. There was someone dead outside the bathroom."

Authorities believe up to 15 foreigners are still being held hostage at the Taj Mahal hotel. The building's older wing has been ravaged by fire, but there is no blaze in its modern tower.

US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said American officials were not aware of any American casualties, but were still checking.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said: "We condemn these attacks and the loss of innocent life."

Johnny Joseph, chief secretary for Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, said 82 people had been killed and 120 had been wounded.

Officials at Bombay Hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Japanese man had died there and nine Europeans had been admitted, three of them in critical condition with gunshots. All had come from the Taj Mahal, the officials said.

At least three top Indian police officers, including the chief of the anti-terror squad, were among those killed, said Roy.

Blood smeared the floor of the Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station, where attackers sprayed bullets into the crowded terminal.

Other gunmen attacked Leopold's restaurant, a landmark popular with foreigners, and the police headquarters in southern Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place.

The restaurant was riddled with bullet holes and there were blood on the floor and shoes left by fleeing customers.

Gunmen also attacked Cama and Albless Hospital and GT Hospital, though it was not immediately clear if anyone was killed.

A Briton who was dining at the Oberoi hotel told Sky News television that the gunmen who struck there singled out Britons and Americans.

Alex Chamberlain said a gunman ushered 30 or 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and ordered everyone to put up their hands. He said the gunman spoke in Hindi or Urdu.

"They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: 'Where are you from?" and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone.

"And I thought fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything - and thank God they didn't."

Chamberlain managed to slip away as the patrons were forced to walk up stairs, but he thought much of the group was being held hostage.

Early on Thursday, several European lawmakers were among people who barricaded themselves inside the Taj.

"I was in the main lobby and there was all of a sudden a lot of firing outside," said Sajjad Karim, part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a European Union-India summit.

As he turned to get away, "all of a sudden another gunmen appeared in front of us, carrying machine gun-type weapons. And he just started firing at us ... I just turned and ran in the opposite direction," he said via mobile phone.

Hours later, Karim remained holed up in a hotel restaurant, unsure if it was safe to come out.

British foreign secretary David Miliband strongly condemned the attacks.

"Today's attacks in Mumbai which have claimed many innocent victims remind us, yet again, of the threat we face from violent extremists," he said in a statement.

Australia's Acting Foreign Minister Simon Crean urged Australians in Mumbai to follow the advice of authorities.

"Clearly the attacks are continuing ... the exact death toll is unknown," he told reporters in Canberra.

"This is a cowardly act. It's indiscriminate, it's a terrorist act, it's an assault on democracy and it takes as victims and casualties, innocent people."

Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic extremists, including a series of bombings in July 2006 that killed 187 people.

And attacks blamed on Muslim militants intent on destabilising the largely Hindu country have killed almost 700 people across India in the past three years.

Since May a militant group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen has taken credit for a string of blasts that killed more than 130 people.

The most recent was in September, when a series of explosions struck a park and crowded shopping areas in the capital, New Delhi, killing 21 people and wounding about 100.