Thursday, November 27, 2008

Death toll rises in Mumbai attack

Mumbai attacks leave 125 dead, 300 injured & unknown number of hostages in terrorists' hands

Twenty four hours after one of India’s worst terror attacks, fires were still burning and there are some reports of sporadic gunfire and explosions. Eleven locations were targeted by the attackers and so far at least 125 people have died and another 300 have been injured. The almost simultaneous attacks started at around 21:00 local time in central Mumbai. The first attack came at the Sasoon Dock and soon after gunmen stormed into the Leopold Cafe and opened fire on diners. An attack then followed at Nariman House, a Jewish outreach Centre, though there are few details available as to casualties. There were unconfirmed reports of a Rabbi and his wife having been taken hostage. Chabad House which is situated in the Nariman business and residential complex was later surrounded by police. Attacks then started at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus [CST] station, formerly known as Victoria Station. Two gunman opened fire on passengers and threw grenades killing at least ten and injuring dozens of others.

Gunmen then burst into two hotels, the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal, and opened fire before taking a number of hostages said to be mostly British and Americans. It is not known how many foreigners were killed in the hotel but at least one Japanese citizen was reported killed at the Taj Mahal hotel. A massive fire later engulfed the Taj Mahal and was still burning as dawn broke. Reports suggest that most hostages have been freed from the Taj Mahal but others are still believed to be held captive at the nearby Oberoi hotel.

At the same time as the hotel attacks, a hospital was also reported to have been attacked. One report from the Cama hospital said that four militants hijacked a police van and fired bullets from inside, before two were killed and the other two captured by the authorities. Sky News also reported that a cinema and a market were also targeted by militants.
The situation remains extremely fluid and some people remain trapped in the hotels and other locations. Hundreds of Indian troops are on the streets and there are continuing reports of explosions or gunshots.

An unknown Islamic militant group, the Deccan Mujahedeen, have claimed responsibility for the attacks and issued a statement in which it said, “We urge the Indian government to return stolen Muslim lands”. Meanwhile the Indian Prime Minister, Manhohan Singh, blamed “external forces”.

Speaking tonight the Foreign Office said they would not speculate on the number of British casualties until the information had been clarified. Earlier the British High Commission said 7 Britons had perished but Foreign Secretary David Miliband would only confirm the death of one Briton. He described the attacks as “callous and indiscriminate” and said “this was not just a war against the West; this is also an attack against India”. He pointed out that the majority of victims were ordinary Indian citizens and said Britain would offer any help and support needed by India. Miliband said he did not wish to point the finger at al-Qaeda and asked that people wait for the facts to emerge.

Amongst the dead are at least 14 police and one national guard. Hemant Karkare, the terror head of Mumbai’s security operation, was also killed in the attacks. A hospital in Mumbai has also named a British fatality as Andreas Liveras [pictured above, top centre]. It is unclear how many or if any hostages remain in terrorist hands. Authorities are unable to provide details to journalists and even the British Foreign Office has said the facts as to what is happening on the ground have yet to be established.

The unfolding story was reported not only on the news channels but also via citizen reports using social networking sites and the internet. One resident posted photographs on Flickr while others reported from the scene using Twitter and Facebook [Sky News]. Television news channels have not stopped their saturation coverage with CNN, Sky News and the BBC providing the most intensive reporting [BBC - rolling ticker] .

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