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Some captives freed from Mumbai hotel

SAMAA | - Posted: Nov 28, 2008 | Last Updated: 13 years ago
SAMAA |
Posted: Nov 28, 2008 | Last Updated: 13 years ago

(CNN) — At least 25 guests, including at least one infant, were escorted out from a Mumbai hotel and quickly herded into waiting vans Friday. Many of them who appeared to be foreigners.

Paramilitary troopers are shown outside The Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, India, on Friday.

1 of 3 more photos » Earlier, the Italian Foreign Ministry had said seven Italian citizens, including a mother and a toddler, were among the hostages inside the Trident hotel.

It was not clear how many people remained inside the hotel.

It was initially believed the guests had been escorted out of The Oberoi, one of two luxury hotels that was attacked more than a day ago, and where an unknown number of guests were still being held by gunmen

The flurry of activity at the Trident came as members of India's premier counterterrorist force were seeking to end standoffs at two luxury hotels and Jewish center that were attacked late Wednesday.

At least 125 people have died, and more than 300 injured from attacks that began late Wednesday night at seven locations across the Indian financial hub.

J.K. Dutt, the director general of India's National Security Guard, told CNN's sister network in India, CNN-IBN, that one gunman at The Oberoi was killed at 1 a.m. Friday (2:30 p.m. ET), but he said he did not know how many remained.

Still, if earlier reports that had put the total number of attackers holed up in the hotel at two were correct, that would leave one.

Outside the Oberoi, activity was occurring, but police asked the news media not to divulge what it was.

As many as 20 people were thought to be inside the hotel Thursday night, an official said.

Among the hostages inside the Oberoi were seven Italian citizens, including a mother and a toddler, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

Outside the Taj Mahal early Friday, members of the news media were asked to turn off their lights, but it was not clear what that signified.

Early Friday, a general directing the operation at the hotel told reporters that 15 to 20 hostages remained inside the building, and that all of them were safe. He said two or three gunmen, one of whom was wounded, remained inside the Taj as well.

But outside the Taj Mahal, distraught relatives of guests holed up inside expressed frustration at the way the rescue effort was being handled.

“I have been here since three in the morning on Thursday, that's nearly 30 hours and, as of now, I have whatsoever no information as to what's being done to rescue them,” said one woman, whose sister and niece were locked in their room in the Taj Mahal.

She said her relatives had been eating food from the refrigerator in the room.

Explosions and gunfire were heard sporadically at both the Taj Mahal and Hotel Oberoi throughout Thursday. It was not clear what caused the explosions.

Though fires erupted at both hotels, both appeared early Friday to have been extinguished.

At Chabad house — a nearby Jewish center — two or three gunmen were believed to be remaining inside, Dutt said. CNN-IBN reported that all the hostages had been freed.

For hours, gunfire and grenades had been tossed from inside the structure toward anyone approaching the building — three such explosions occurred in four hours.

But just before dawn, several jeeploads of police, firetrucks and at least one ambulance pulled up to the five-story structure.

And as dawn broke, three helicopter passes over 40 minutes dropped about two dozen soldiers onto its roof.

After the last drop, five or six heavy explosions and small-arms fire could be heard.

Other soldiers took positions on adjacent buildings, which had been evacuated Thursday night.

Dozens of onlookers crowded into terraces of nearby buildings and watched as the scene unfolded, punctuated by gunfire and explosions.

Rabbi Josh Runyan, spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch International, said Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivka, 28, were believed to still be in the house. He said the couple's son was safe and with family in Mumbai.

Earlier Thursday, Johny Joseph, chief secretary of the state of Maharashtra — of which Mumbai is the capital — said two women and a child were seen escaping from the building. CNN-IBN reporter Raksha Shetty also said three hostages escaped — apparently a caretaker, a cook and a child.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, reported later that Sandra Samuel — a cook for the center who had barricaded herself in a room in the house — said she grabbed Holtzberg's 2-year-old son and fled the building with another person.

“I just grabbed the baby and ran out,” Samuel told Haaretz.

The death toll from the series of coordinated attacks was at 125, including at least six foreigners, the director-general of police's office said. Fourteen police were among the dead. In all, some 327 people were wounded.

In a nationally televised address on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the attackers were foreigners, but he did not say where he believed they were from.

“The well-planned and very orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of panic by choosing high-profile targets and indiscriminately killing innocent foreigners,” Singh said.

“It is evident that the group which carried out these attacks, based outside the country, had come with single-minded determination to create havoc in the financial capital of the country,” he added.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday that a team of British foreign office officials and metropolitan police had arrived in Mumbai. “The most important function is obviously a consular function — to identify all the British victims, to liaise with all of the victims — some of whom may still be trapped in the hotels — and also ensure on the police side, that all expertise is offered to the Indian authorities,” he said.

The identity of the attackers remained a mystery. CNN-IBN quoted police sources as saying they believed there were some 26 gunmen, most of them young.

State media Press Trust of India, citing Union Cabinet Minister Kapil Sibal, reported the gunmen had worked for months to prepare, even setting up “control rooms” in the two luxury hotels that were targeted.

Officially, the Indian authorities were saying no one had claimed responsibility, although the Deccan mujahideen took credit in e-mails sent to several Indian news outlets.

Deccan refers to the Deccan Plateau that makes up the majority of the southern part of the country. “Deccan” is an Anglicized form of “dakkhin,” which means south.

Mujahideen translates into “those engaged in the struggle for jihad.” While “jihad” in Islam can mean any endeavor that requires dedication, the term has taken on a militant tone in recent years.

Police say the attackers came by boats to the waterfront near the Gateway of India monument.

Nine suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks, and seven are fishermen, police said. Police also found a boat loaded with explosives near the Taj Mahal, also located on the waterfront.

The gunmen hijacked cars — including a police van — and split into at least three groups to carry out the attacks, police said.

One group headed toward the Cafe Leopold, a popular hangout for Western tourists, firing indiscriminately at passers-by on the street. They then opened fire and lobbed grenades at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway

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