A series of violent attacks has struck the heart of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, killing many people in machine-gun and grenade assaults on several five-star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a Jewish centre, a cinema and a hospital.
India has suffered a rising number of attacks this year, but the assaults on the evening of Wednesday 26 November 2008 are being described as unprecedented.
The attackers used boats to reach the urban peninsula, and their targets were sites popular with tourists. The Mumbai police said this morning that the attacks killed at least 101 people and wounded at least 250. Guests who had escaped the hotels told television stations that the attackers were taking hostages, singling out Americans and Britons.
A previously unknown group has reportedly claimed responsibility. Gunfire and explosions rang out into the morning. Hours after the attacks began, the landmark Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel, next to the waterfront monument the Gateway of India, was in flames, along with the Oberoi Hotel.
A militant claiming to be inside on one of the hotels, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, told Indian TV: “We want all mujahedeen held in India released, and only after that we will release the people.”
However there are factors that could point in other directions in terms of who might be responsible. http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8084
Guests, including two members of the European Parliament who were visiting as part of a trade delegation, remained in hiding in the hotels, making mobile telephone calls, some of them to television stations, describing their ordeal.
Indian troops are currently reported to be confronting attackers in two of the targeted hotels, one of which seems to have been cleared - with twelve hostages freed.
The wider situation remains highly confused, but an informed observer told Ekklesia: "It is grave, not only for the victims, hostages and their families but also local Muslims awaiting a backlash. However things may not be as they seem. A usually reliable source indicates that three of those killed are anti-terrorist police officers who were investigating far-right Hindu supremacists. But this is unconfirmed."
She added: "I hope that, whoever is responsible, those who have been trying to halt the activities of extremists of all kinds get due credit. Much work has gone on in India to resist communalism, and we can only begin to imagine the pressure on those in the police and army who have had to challenge entrenched bigotry amongst their colleagues and powerful local groups while trying to act equitably."
US President-elect Barack Obama led global condemnation of the grenade and gun assaults in Mumbai. The USA will work “with India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks,” Obama’s transition team said in a statement.
Six weeks earlier, the Indian capital New Delhi had been hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 people dead, the attacks were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen.
In separate developments, a suspected suicide bomber has also struck close to the entrance to the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, witnesses and police have told the BBC and other news agencies.
At least one person, a civilian, is reported to have been killed, although one police official said more had died. The bomber apparently detonated explosives 200 metres from the heavily guarded entrance to the US compound.
See also: 'Behind the Mumbai attacks', by Savitri Hensman - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/8084