In Mumbai, Militant Violence Not Quelled Today in Mumbai, Indian commandos continued to battle militants in three locations, eventually recapturing the Oberoi Trident Hotel and a Jewish Center. What could be the final push to retake the Taj hotel began toward the end of the day. The death toll is more than 120, including an American rabbi and his wife at the Jewish Center.
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Philip Reeves: Brushes With Death In Attack

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In Mumbai, Militant Violence Not Quelled

Philip Reeves: Brushes With Death In Attack

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For NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. In India, it has come down to one last battle. When the day began, militants were holed up in three separate places and many people were trapped. As the day ended, security forces had gained control of the Oberoi Trident Hotel and released hostages there, and they had stormed a Jewish center, a center where five people were found dead. The death toll has risen to at least 150; that includes the couple who ran the Jewish center, which was associated with a group based in Brooklyn. It also includes two Americans from Virginia. NPR's Philip Reeves followed the day's events, and he sent us this report.

(Soundbite of shouting)

PHILIP REEVES: As dusk falls on Mumbai, the job of ridding the city of the last of the militants who invaded nearly two days ago still isn't complete. Indian policemen are clearing people out of the alleys surrounding a Jewish center just a few dozen yards away. Commandos have spent the day battling with a couple of Islamist militants inside the center. There have been sporadic bursts of shooting and loud explosions. The people on the streets believe the operation is over; it isn't.

(Soundbite of crowd talking)

(Soundbite of gunshots)

REEVES: Only later did the sounds of battle die away. Officials said the two gunmen were killed. The commandos were unable to save five hostages whose bodies were found inside. The center houses an ultra-Orthodox Jewish outreach organization headquartered in New York. Two of its directors, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, were among the dead. The center was one of ten targets attacked by the band of militants when they stormed into Mumbai. It only takes a few minutes to walk from there to another target, the Taj Mahal Hotel. Today, the hotel had at least one gunman moving around its corridors and plush rooms, playing a bloody game of cat and mouse with the security forces.

(Soundbite of helicopter blades)

REEVES: As evening sets in, a fire burns fiercely among the hotel's turrets. Turnchit Singh Vajad(ph) is standing on the waterfront watching and musing on why things had gone so badly wrong.

Mr. TURNCHIT SINGH VAJAD (Resident, Mumbai, India): I think it's a total lapse of security and intelligence.

REEVES: Whose fault is that?

Mr. VAJAD: I think it's basically, there's a lot of corruption here in this country and people really don't look at the right things. And everybody is too self-centered, busy making money for themselves, that's what happens. It's a sad thing, isn't it?

REEVES: Vajad is from Mumbai. He finds it painful to watch such damage and bloodshed taking place within his city and its most famous landmark.

Mr. VAJAD: I would be inhuman not to care about it. I mean, I would be dead not to care about it. The pitiful thing is that, when this thing is over, it just might die down. And I just hope that some good resolutions come out of it.

REEVES: The scene inside the hotel sounds horrifying. The head of a team of Indian commandos said today he saw some 50 corpses, including up to 15 in one room. The area around the hotel is sealed off by security forces, but journalists were able to get through the barricades.

(Soundbite of birds)

Well, it's pretty clear that the situation at the Taj Mahal Hotel is still going on. And the troops here seem quite tense. It's absolutely silent. They are all standing up, concealed by pillars in the colonnade.

Soon, security agents get nervous and usher people away.

Unidentified Man #1: It is not safe (unintelligible) come back here.

REEVES: You want me to come back here?

Unidentified Man #2: No, no...

REEVES: Just down the road from the Taj Mahal Hotel stands another of the gunman's targets, Leopold's Cafe. Ronnie Querrans(ph) from Belgium is standing nearby. He was in the cafe when the militants burst in and opened fire. Querrans was on the upper floor. For the first few minutes, he didn't know what was happening.

Mr. RONNIE QUERRANS (Patron, Leopold's Cafe): And then the panic started. The staff pulled out a small door and then with about 15 or 20 people, we just got in. And we - keep there, stay there, be quiet.

REEVES: So, they locked you in a cupboard.

Mr. QUERRANS: They locked us, yes. About half an hour later, some people, I think, some staff of Leopold's, they said we could come out. And then everybody started running out in different directions and then when we came down. We saw all the - yeah, inside the tables, chairs, some people laying on the ground, blood everywhere and then said, oh my god, this is serious. Some people got killed here.

REEVES: So, as you left, the bodies were still there.

Mr. QUERRANS: The bodies were - some of them were still there.

REEVES: Querrans is standing beside two women.

Ms. JUDITH ROSTAV (Patron, Leopold's Cafe): Judith from Vienna, Judith Rostav(ph).

Ms. VALENTINA POMARANSKI (Patron, Leopold's Cafe): And I am from Russia, Valentina Pomaranski(ph).

REEVES: The women described an even more remarkable escape. They say just before the wave of attacks began in Mumbai, they came face to face with a couple of the militants not far from Leopold's. The gunmen were on motorcycles. They told them to get out of the area.

Ms. ROSTAV: They're in a hurry. They told us, in a hurry, in a hurry! Disappear, disappear!

REEVES: Why do you think they did that?

Ms. POMARANSKI: He's annoyed. I thought that was so crazed, I don't know, I don't know.

Ms. ROSTAV: No, they see to (unintelligible).

REEVES: You are so lucky, aren't you?

Ms. POMARANSKI: Yes, but we don't know at that time, what - the first time when I am hearing the shooting, I was thinking, James Bond is here because I am coming from the Bollywood shooting and I was thinking that is the next movie. But when I saw every shopkeeper and everybody is running away, oh my God, that is not a joke. That is a real life story.

REEVES: How are you feeling now?

Ms. ROSTAV: Not well. It's a shock, it's stressful because we are lucky only because they were in a hurry. Two persons for them is nothing. They wanted more.

Ms. POMARANSKI: Yes. But I want to tell to everybody and I want to say that thanks to everybody. Please, we have to hold together. It doesn't matter we are foreigners, we are Muslims, we are Hindus or Christians - we must hold together. Don't leave the terror to rule us.

REEVES: Those words of unity and peace pleased the crowd of locals who have gathered to hear the women's story. It's the kind of healing their wounded city needs. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Mumbai.

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