New Delhi (CNSNews.com) – Coordinated terrorist strikes across a 15-mile stretch of India’s financial capital, Mumbai, on Wednesday night left more than 100 people dead and many more maimed and injured. Foreigners and policemen were apparently the key target, and police said Thursday at least six foreigners were among the dead.
Several dozen American and British tourists were being held hostage by gunmen inside two five star hotels in the south of the city, amid sporadic exchanges of gunfire between terrorists and police.
“The situation is still not under control and we are trying to flush out terrorists hiding inside the two hotels,” said Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister of Maharashtra state.
Although little is known of the identities of the terrorists, reports suggest at least some of them spoke Arabic.
“I guess they were after foreigners, because they were asking for British or American passports,” said Rakesh Patel, a British businessman of Indian origin who was staying at the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, one of the terrorists’ targets.
Patel, who may have escaped due to his Indian features, told India’s NDTV that the terrorists were “young boys, maybe 20 years old, 25 years old,” armed with guns and bombs.
Although several hundred people were evacuated from the two hotels – the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi Trident – others were trapped inside and have been using mobile phones to call and text for help.
Emails received by television channels claimed responsibility for the attacks in the name of the “Deccan Mujahideen,” an unheard-of group.
At least five previous attacks costing more than 130 lives since last November – in Uttar Pradesh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi – have been claimed by the “Indian Mujahideen,” and security experts have been warning of radicalized Indian Muslims aligning themselves with a global jihadist ideology.
The White House said in a statement that representatives of counterterrorism and intelligence agencies as well as the State and Defense Departments had met.
“The US government continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens, and stands ready to assist and support the Indian government,” it said. “The United States condemns this terrorist attack and we will continue to stand with the people of India in this time of tragedy.”
In what some are already calling India’s 9/11, gunmen launched concerted attacks at five star hotels, pubs, railway stations, hospitals, at least one vehicle and in crowded streets, leaving a trail of mayhem.
Moving in groups of twos and threes, terrorists set off multiple blasts and bursts of gunfire in a dozen areas across the city, police said. Hand grenades were also used in some instances, according to eyewitnesses and police.
Their apparent aim was to overwhelm the police and bring the country’s commercial hub to a standstill.
Among the dead already identified were three top police officers, including the head of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), Hemant Karkare.
The commissioner of the Railway Police said a railway station attack alone claimed 40 lives.
“Suspected terrorists struck in a number of places, and at many places, they had opened fire and disappeared,” said A.N. Roy, director-general of police for Maharashtra state.
Some unconfirmed reports said the had arrived on a boat which was later found by custom officers.
The attacks brought the “city which never sleeps” to a complete halt and soldiers were assisting police attempting to flush out terrorists from various hideouts. Police say they shot dead four gunmen and arrested nine suspects in various locations, and also defused several live bombs.
The scenes of horror recalled to many minds a wave of bomb blasts that hit Mumbai’s train system two years ago, leaving more than 200 people dead.
An intelligence officer said the latest attacks could dent Mumbai’s image as a peaceful destination for foreigners.
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)