Friday, November 28, 2008

Massacre in Mumbai: Up to SEVEN gunmen were British and 'came from same area as 7/7 bombers'

By JUSTIN DAVENPORT RASHID RAZAQ and NICOLA BODEN

Last updated at 7:39 PM on 28th November 2008

  • British-born Pakistanis among arrested militants
  • Commandos storm strongholds to rescue hostages
  • Siege continues at Taj hotel as bystanders wounded
  • Death toll rises as another 24 bodies found in hotel
  • At least five dead hostages found in Jewish Centre 

British-born Pakistanis were among the Mumbai terrorists, Indian government sources claimed today, as the death toll rose to at least 155.

As many as seven of the terrorists may have British connections and some could be from Leeds and Bradford where London's July 7 bombers lived, one source said.

Two Britons were among eight gunmen being held, according to Mumbai's chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. At least nine others are reportedly dead.

The eight arrested were captured by commandos after they stormed two hotels and a Jewish centre to free hostages today. Despite the Indian authorities' assurances that the situation was under control, the siege continued at the Taj Mahal hotel and explosions could still be heard in central Mumbai.

One security official said: 'There is growing concern about British involvement in the attacks.'

But Gordon Brown has urged caution. He emerged from a conversation with India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to say there was no suggestion of a British link.

'At no point has the prime minister of India suggested to me that there is evidence at this stage of any terrorist of British origins, but obviously these are huge investigations that are being done and I think it will be premature to draw any conclusions at all,' Mr Brown said.

station

Calm: One of the young gunmen with his weapon, looking for more victims. Indian authorities say two of the arrested militants were British-born Pakistanis

Loss: Bollywood actor Ashish Chaudhary is consoled outside Mumbai's Trident-Oberoi Hotel after learning about his sister's death

Loss: Bollywood actor Ashish Chaudhary is consoled outside Mumbai's Trident-Oberoi Hotel after learning about his sister's death

Gone: US citizen Alan Scherr and daughter Naomi, pictured with his wife Kia, were killed in Mumbai's Oberoi hotel. They were in India with religious group Synchronicity Foundation, which was hosting a meditation program at the hotel

Gone: US citizen Alan Scherr and daughter Naomi, pictured with his wife Kia, were killed in Mumbai's Oberoi hotel. They were in India with religious group Synchronicity Foundation, which was hosting a meditation program at the hotel

Senior Whitehall sources said it was too early to say whether there had been any involvement by British nationals but that security services, working with overseas partners, would be looking at any potential links to the UK.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith also said UK authorities had "no knowledge" of any British links with the massacre, while Foreign Secretary David Miliband said it was "too early to say" whether any of the terrorists were British.

As authorities tried to piece together the identities and motivations of the attackers, special forces were still battling with gunmen.

At the five-star Taj Mahal Hotel, officers were still locked in combat with up to six militants believed to be holed up in the ballroom. 

The Indian authorities thought they had ended the siege there last night after they shot dead three terrorists and released hundreds of hostages, but it raged again today.

In a major army operation, soldiers threw grenades at the walls in a bid to smoke out the militants. Four bystanders were reported wounded in the crossfire.

Mumbai officials say more than 155 people in total have now died in the attacks. Another 370 were wounded. 

Scroll down for more

Enlarge mumbai

Terror: Indian special forces prepare to take back the Taj Palace Hotel in Mumbai

Indian forces personnel fire towards the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India,

The tragic figures include the bodies of another five hostages who were found dead inside the Nariman House Jewish Centre this afternoon after commandos finally secured the building.

Two militants were also killed. It is not known whether the Rabbi and his wife who were believed to be among the hostages are dead or alive.

 

Around 20 masked officers had raided the centre this morning, dropping from helicopters onto the roof, in an operation dubbed Operation Black Tornado.

Hours of heavy fighting ensued as they moved from floor after floor. As dusk fell, there was a massive explosion and it appeared to be over.

Enlarge Air rescue: A commando drops to the roof of Mumbai's Jewish centre this morning where at least 10 hostages are thought to still be being held

Air rescue: A commando drops to the roof of Mumbai's Jewish centre and below, officers span out ready to storm the building

Battle: Indian commandos take their positions near the Jewish centre

Across the city at the Oberoi Hotel, the siege ended when two militants were shot dead. 

Dozens of traumatised guests emerged unharmed but inside there were scenes of carnage and the bodies of another 24 victims.

Many of those freed had been locked in their rooms, terrified, for 41 hours while the gunmen rampaged.

Today, around 100 people were rescued and struggling to absorb their ordeal. One man was clutching a tiny baby in his arms as he walked out.

British lawyer Mark Abell emerged with a beaming smile, saying: 'I'm going home, I'm going to see my wife. ' 

The 51-year-old told how he had spent the night listening to gunshots and explosions and communicating with the outside world on his phone and Blackberry.

Describing the scene when he was eventually led to safety, he said it was 'carnage' with 'blood and guts everywhere'.

'I was supposed to be working in Delhi but I think I have had more than my fair share of my business trip so I am looking forward to going home to see my family,' he said.

Finally safe: A British man being led from the Oberoi Trident Hotel this morning after a siege lasting more than a day

Rescued: A British man is led to safety from the Oberoi Trident Hotel today and below, another guest emerges clutching a tiny baby

Safe at last: A guest emerges from the Oberoi hotel clutching a tiny baby

A number of the hostages were airline staff still wearing their Lufthansa and Air France uniforms when they emerged from the building.

As they came out some carried luggage with Canadian flags, and two women were dressed in black abayas, traditional Muslim women's garments.

Others were not so lucky. Reported dead tonight was an American and his 13-year-old daughter as well as the wife and two children of the Taj hotel's general manager.

Foreigners from Japan, Australia, Italy and Germany and one Briton - tycoon Andreas Liveras - have already been confirmed as among the victims.

At least eight Britons were injured and there are fears the British toll could yet rise further as more and more buildings are made stable and searched.

Earlier, one commando revealed he had seen around 50 bodies littering the Taj hotel floor after special officers stormed the building and rescued hundreds of guests.

Clad in black, with a mask covering his face, the unit chief said: 'There was blood all over the bodies. The bodies were strewn here and there and we had to be careful as we entered the building to avoid further bloodshed of innocent civilians.'

The terrorists had seemed like young, ordinary men but had clearly been very well trained, he said. 

'They were wearing T-shirts, just ordinary looking, but they have definitely been trained to use weapons. There is no way they could handle such weapons without being taught how to.'

Held hostage: Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were held at a Jewish center. Below, their two-year-old son is carried to safety

Feared dead: Rabbi Gabriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were believed to be inside the Jewish centre where the bodies of five hostages were found

At least nine terrorists are thought to have been shot dead in gun battles across the city as police and special forces tried to regain control.

Three arrested at the Taj Mahal have been officially identified as a Pakistani national and two Indians. Another is reported to be a Mauritian national.

They arrived in the city by sea before fanning out to at least 10 locations. Dinghies were found moored at a jetty by the famous Gateway to India monument.

Today, coast guard officials said they could have hijacked an Indian trawler to drop them off after finding an abandoned boat drifting near the shore.

The captain's dead body was found inside the vessel, along with communications equipment.

Dressed in jeans and T-shirts and heavily armed, they then headed for the city - which is India's financial centre - and started firing indiscriminately.

It is thought they gained entrance to the hotels by pretending to be staff and hotel guests, according to reports.

Blast: Police throw a grenade into the Taj Mahal hotel as they desperately try to control a militant believed to be holed up in a ballroom inside

Blast: Police throw a grenade into the Taj Mahal hotel as they desperately try to smoke out up to six militants hiding in the ballroom

Indian authorities have not released any details about the two Britons and the Foreign Office has refused to confirm Indian television reports.

Security services in Britain are now examining images of the gunmen in an effort to identify them. 

India's High Commissioner Shiv Shankar Mukherjee played down speculation some of the gunmen were British: 'I have seen nothing more than what is in the media and that is based on speculation. I will wait for the investigation to produce some hard facts.'

Speculation linking the attackers with Bradford was quashed by the Leeds-based Counter Terrorism Unit.

A statement from officers said: "At this stage we are not in receipt of any intelligence or information linking the events in India to our area."

A team of Scotland Yard anti-terrorist detectives and negotiators are now on their way to Mumbai to assist in the investigation.

Indian commandos have recovered credit cards and the militants' ID cards as well as seizing a vast arsenal of grenades, AK-47 magazines, shells and knives.

Enlarge Desperate: A hostage at the Oberoi peeks out of his window as the siege continues

Desperate: A hostage at the Oberoi peeks out of his window during the siege

A previously unknown Islamic group, Deccan Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility for the attacks but terror experts believe is is linked to Al Qaeda.

It is known that dozens of British-born Pakistanis have travelled to Pakistan to train in its camps in recent years.

One security source said recently: 'The camps are full and many of the people inside are Brits.'

There has been speculation that a British Al Qaeda suspect reportedly killed by a U.S. missile strike in Pakistan last weekend may have helped plot the attacks.

Rashid Rauf was among five killed in a missile attack in a tribal area in North Waziristan on Saturday. 

Security sources believe that at the time of his death Rauf had been planning a major attack on Western targets.

Met officers were also interviewing passengers returning from Mumbai as they stepped off planes at Heathrow.

There was also speculation that England cricketers could have been an intended target of the terrorists. 

It emerged that some of the team had been due to stay in Mumbai, most likely the Taj Mahal, on Wednesday evening before a late decision was made to switch training to Bangalore. 

Shocked player Michael Vaughan said: 'I don't know why it was switched but we could have been there in one of those hotels when they were attacked.

'All our white Test kit is in one of the rooms at the Taj Mahal hotel: All our pads and clothes for the Test series and our blazers and caps and ties. That's how close the danger is.' 

The England team will fly back to Britain today.

Rampage: The terrorist is joined by another machine gun-wielding fanatic as they hunt down victims

On the hunt: Two baby-faced gunman brandishing automatic weapons and below, the scene of carnage they left behind at the main train station

Massacre: Blood splatters the floor at the train station where travellers were slaughtered. Others abandoned their luggage and ran for their lives

The bloody drama which began on Wednesday night has now lasted more than two days. The targets across the city were: 

  • The Oberoi Hotel, in the commercial district. Its restaurant was bustling with diners, many of them tourists; 
  • Also attacked was the Leopold restaurant, a haunt of the city's art crowd. As the fanatics sprayed the packed cafe, diners fled in terror; 
  • Some of the worst scenes were at the major railway station. As they entered the Gothic Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, once named after Queen Victoria, the gunmen were smiling. With an astonishing air of casualness, the terrorists started to shoot. Within seconds the concourse was a bloodbath. People lay screaming on the floor; 
  • A further prestigious target was the 105-year-old Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel; 
  • More hostages were taken at the nearby Chabad House, headquarters for an ultra-orthodox Jewish group. A rabbi was among those held. 

About 15 police officers were killed, including the head of Mumbai's anti-terrorism unit.

India's prime minister Manmohan-Singh has blamed militant groups based outside the country - usually meaning Pakistan - raising fears of renewed tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals. Pakistan condemned the attacks. 

The attack on the train station had echoes of previous terror outrages. 

In July 2006 more than 180 people were killed in seven bomb explosions at railway stations and on trains in Mumbai that were blamed on Islamist militants. 

  • Worried friends or relatives should call the Foreign Office's emergency line on 0207 008 0000.Enlarge A map shows the locations of the bombings across Mumbai

    A map shows the locations of the bombings across Mumbai

No comments: