Death Toll Rises in Mumbai Attacks

Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, hospitals and a crowded train station late Wednesday in coordinated attacks across India's financial capital, Mumbai. More than 100 people were killed. Police also say the attackers took Westerners hostage. NPR's Philip Reeves talks with Steve Inskeep about the attacks.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Gunmen in the Indian city of Mumbai are still holding an unknown number of hostages today. They're holding the hostages at two hotels after a series of terror attacks. So far more than one hundred people have been killed and some 300 wounded in the city once known as Bombay. It is the financial capital of India. The gunmen attacked multiple sites there. In addition to the hotels, they struck at a hospital, in a train station, and a popular restaurant.

Witnesses say the militants singled out British and American guests at the Taj Mahal and the Trident Oberoi Hotels. We do know Westerners are among the dead and wounded. NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story from Mumbai. He's on the line. And Philip, could you just describe what you've seen as you've moved around the streets today?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, I'm about 700 yards away from the Taj Mahal Hotel right at this moment. And a moment ago we heard a very loud explosion, and it echoed across the city very strikingly because this is one of the most vibrant and crowded and busy cities in the whole of Asia. But today it is silent. People are stunned here. And it takes an awful lot to stun the city of Mumbai.

INSKEEP: And these hotels are still surrounded by police? There's still activity going on?

REEVES: Very much so, yes. In fact in the Taj Mahal Hotel, which is that landmark hotel on Mumbai's waterfront where, you know, stars and international businessmen and very wealthy Indians stay, commandos inside the hotel are going from room to room checking the hotel. The police are saying that the guests who were held in the restaurants and banquet halls inside the hotel, they've been evacuated overnight. But some guests are still trapped in their rooms. But the police say that they don't think there are any more hostages in the hotel, although they do believe that there are still, or there may still be, some militants in there.

INSKEEP: So they're pounding on door after door after door wondering if there's going to be a gunman or a terrified hotel guest inside.

REEVES: Yeah, that's right. I'm not sure they knock though.

INSKEEP: I imagine not. I imagine not. Philip, we did hear about a number of attacks all around the city. If I can just ask, what about these reports of an attack on a Jewish center in Mumbai?

REEVES: Yeah. There's a - apparently a Jewish group which is based in New York has a headquarters, which is where they have an educational center and so on, in an apartment building in Mumbai and that that building was among the targets of these gunmen as they rampaged around the city last night. And it's reported that a Jewish rabbi is among several people being held there. So there's a standoff going on there too, just as there is at another five star hotel, the Oberoi Trident.

INSKEEP: Hard to miss the message of attacks like this if the victims are Jewish, the victims are British in many cases, the victims are American in many cases.

REEVES: Yeah, indeed they are. But there have also been a number of policemen who are victims. The Indian police say they've lost 14 officers, and these include the chief of the city's anti-terrorist squad who was apparently leading an assault inside the Taj Mahal against a group of militants who were in there.

INSKEEP: Does anybody know who the militants are or were?

REEVES: No. There has been a claim that it was a group called the Deccan Mujahideen. Now as you know, there have been bombings going on in India in recent months, and some of these have been claimed by the Indian Mujahideen. There's speculation, Steve, that India now has its own homegrown Islamist extremist group, a kind of local al-Qaeda, that might be involved. There's speculation also that these guys arrived in the city by boat.

INSKEEP: Well, let me just ask because you mentioned there had been other bombings. Are these attacks that we are just noticing because they are against high-profile targets and apparently in some cases against Westerners? Or is this exceptional? Is this beyond what is normal at the moment in India?

REEVES: Oh, I think it is exceptional. I think the fact that it's against high-profile Western targets and also places that are used by the Indian elite is highly significant, but the scale of this thing is pretty unprecedented, Steve. I mean, there have been some massive attacks on Mumbai before, one in 2006 when, as you recall, militants attacked a commuter train. It caused absolute havoc and killed several hundred people. But this is very well coordinated, very well planned, and it has caused chaos, as it was clearly intended to do. And I think this assault has really rocked this city.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Mumbai, the city once known as Bombay. Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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Indian Commandos Still Battling Mumbai Gunmen

Government commandos in the Indian financial hub of Mumbai were still battling to wrest control of buildings and hotels seized by teams of gunmen in bloody attacks on Wednesday.

Indian sharpshooters opened fire early Friday at the site of a besieged Jewish center in Mumbai. Suspected militants were believed to be holed up — possibly with hostages — inside the headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch. Snipers in buildings opposite the center began shooting as a helicopter circled overhead.

Earlier, an Israeli embassy official had said at least 10 Israeli nationals were trapped in buildings or held hostage in Mumbai.

At least 119 people had been killed and 288 wounded in a series of attacks that began Wednesday evening when the gunmen stormed at least 10 sites frequented by Western tourists and wealthy Indians — including the Jewish center, two luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, a train station, hospitals and a police station that controls security in the sector where the attacks were carried out.

'Still Not Under Control'

Officials said Thursday that the death toll from the attacks could rise.

"The situation is still not under control and we are trying to flush out any more terrorists hiding inside the two hotels," said Vilasrao Deshmukh, chief minister of Maharashtra state where Mumbai is located.

The Maharashtra state home ministry said dozens of hostages had been freed from the Trident-Oberoi hotel and dozens more were still trapped inside. More than 400 people were brought out of the Taj Mahal hotel, and army forces were still scouring the building for survivors Friday morning.

Late Thursday night, authorities said they had killed three gunmen at the Taj and were sweeping the Oberoi in search of hostages and trapped people. It remained unclear just how many people had been taken hostage, how many were hiding inside the hotels and how many dead still lay uncounted.

Fears Of Renewed Tension With Pakistan

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed militant groups based in neighboring countries, usually meaning Pakistan, raising fears of renewed tension between the nuclear-armed rivals.

"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 commercial capital of the country," he said in a televised address.

Pakistani authorities were quick to condemn the attacks, but Pakistan's defense minister warned Singh not to accuse Pakistan of links to the attacks.

"This will destroy all the goodwill we created together after years of bitterness," he told The Associated Press. "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department warned U.S. citizens not to travel to Mumbai for 48 to 72 hours.

From NPR and wire reports.

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