Mumbai Attack Update

Jyoti Thottam, Time magazine's bureau chief for South Asia, gives an update on the series of terror attacks in India's financial hub of Mumbai.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington and we want to get you an update on the awful situation in Mumbai, India. A series of coordinated attacks that started yesterday left more than a hundred people dead and several hundred more injured. Today, Indian commandos stormed two luxury hotels where suspected Islamist terrorists held a number of hostages. Jyoti Thottam is Time Magazine's bureau chief for South Asia. She joins us from her hotel in Mumbai. Thanks very much for staying up late to talk with us tonight.

Ms. JYOTI THOTTAM (Time Magazine's Bureau Chief, South Asia): Hello. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you. What's the latest on the standoff?

Ms. THOTTAM: Well, as of late last night, the encounter as they call it between the police and army forces and the suspects in the hotel, was still going on. There was still firing sort of into the night starting from yesterday afternoon.

CONAN: And you said last night because it's one o'clock in the morning tomorrow in Mumbai.

Ms. THOTTAM: That's right.

CONAN: The numbers are so sketchy, so far. All of the situations, we keep hearing all of these anecdotal stories. Have you been able to make sense of this at all?

Ms. THOTTAM: You mean of the number of people dead?

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. THOTTAM: Or the number of people who are actually - yeah, the casualty figures did rise yesterday, as you said, to more than a hundred killed. But we're still not sure exactly how many suspects there are. The best estimate from the last sort of official announcement was somewhere between 20 and 25 which is still sort of an extraordinarily small number given the sort of complete lock down that we're in, in this city. I mean, it's remarkable that this could happen, this could be orchestrated by such a small number of people. But apparently, that looks like that's what's happened.

CONAN: There have been many number of attacks in the past in Mumbai and other Indian cities for that matter. Nevertheless, these appear to be, at least, in terms of the weapons used and the targets of the attack to be quite different - AK-47s, assault rifles and hand grenades as opposed to bombs. And do we have any idea, the one group that claimed responsibility here, nobody has ever heard of them before.

Ms. THOTTAM: Yes. It's very strange. I mean, there were very definitely things that were very different about this attack. As you said, just the number of different weapons that they were using, all at the same time, is something very different. They apparently approached the city by sea. They came, at least some of them, by boat from a neighboring state in the north and sort of swung around the peninsula that is the city and landed on the coastline that way which is again very unusual. They also definitely targeted places where foreigners were likely to be, including the hotels and also, this one cafe that's very popular at backpackers here. All things that if you're looking for foreigners, that's where you'd go. And I think that's very troubling to people here in the city which prides itself on being very cosmopolitan, a city where you can be anything you want in a way that New York City likes to think of itself. So, that's very disturbing to people.

CONAN: And a Jewish center was also attacked. The prime minister in a statement said the attacks originated in another neighboring state which is not too many people in India, would take that to mean anything other than Pakistan and the Pakistanis said wait a minute, let's not have knee jerk reactions here. Nevertheless, tensions have to be increasing.

Ms. THOTTAM: Yes. That was also somewhat surprising because there was a time when any terrorist attack within India was immediately blamed on Pakistan. Now, what's happened over the last couple of years, it's become clear to many people that there are in fact groups or individuals within India who are capable of doing such things and the rhetoric's sort of adjusted towards trying to understand who they might be and what their motivations are. So, the fact that the prime minister is going back to talking about what they call the foreign hand here, it's an unusual development, it's a little bit troubling to many people. It's not clear what the evidence is either way to say that it's tied to Pakistan. The group that's claimed responsibility is also something that no one's every really heard of.

CONAN: So we clearly have much left to learn and at this point, more questions than answers. Jyoti Thottam, thank you very much for taking the time tonight. I know it's very late or early in the morning tomorrow there.

Ms. THOTTAM: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: Jyoti Thottam is Time magazine's bureau chief for South Asia joining us from her hotel in Mumbai, India. Stay tuned for details in the latest developments from India much more later today on All Things Considered. Tomorrow on Talk of the Nation, the dignity of plants, puzzle solving slime mold and the relative jumping height of different kinds of fleas. Well, what else? It's Science Friday. Ira Flatow will be here with a tribute to the strange and silly in the world of science. Highlights from the Ig Noble Awards.

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