Thursday, November 27, 2008

Terror and Mayhem Continue in Mumbai; 100+ Dead As Explosions Continue Being Reported

Mumbai and the rest of India is still coming to grips with the massive and sprawling terrorist attacks that hit the largest city in the world, which is still ongoing. More than a hundred people were killed in a combination of bombings and gunfights with terrorists who not only infiltrated into the city, but who struck at some of the most famous addresses and highly visible locations.

A new detail released since my last posting notes that one of the targets was a Chabad house:
Teams of gunmen stormed luxury hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station and a Jewish group's headquarters in India's financial capital, killing at least 101 people, taking Westerners hostage and leaving parts of the city under siege Thursday. A group of suspected Muslim militants claimed responsibility.

Police and gunmen were exchanging occasional gunfire at two luxury hotels and dozens of people were believed held hostage or trapped inside the besieged buildings. Pradeep Indulkar, a senior official at the Maharashtra state Home Ministry said 101 people were killed and 287 injured.

Officials said eight militants had also been killed in the coordinated attacks on at least 10 sites that began around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Gunmen also seized the Mumbai headquarters of the ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach group Chabad Lubavitch, the New York-based group said. Indian commandos surrounded the building Thursday morning and media reports said gunfire was heard from the building.
The Chabad HQ in New York City released a statement and expressed not only their concern for Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, and no one from the Chabad center has been heard from since the attacks. The Lubavitch have been working with Indian authorities to try and determine what has happened not only since the terrorists stormed the building, but what has happened when Indian commandos went in to secure it.

Carl in Jerusalem has more on the situation at Chabad House.

More than 200 people are still trapped at the Oberoi Trident hotel, while six people there were killed. All the hostages at the Taj Hotel have been rescued, but it appears that fighting continues there as there are fresh explosions and gunfire.

A first hand report from the city shows that people are trying to go about their business but the mayhem on the streets can seemingly erupt anywhere. The kindness and generosity of strangers has helped many weather the attacks after being stranded far from home and the dangerousness of attempting to cross the city as the terrorists attacked.

A group of Australians were trapped in a Mumbai hotel, including actress Brooke Satchwell, who hid in a cupboard in the lobby to avoid being shot. The report notes that they were not going to release the location, lest the terrorists get wind of it.

The Indian army has moved in and will be carrying out operations in the Taj Hotel to flush out the last remaining terrorists there and to secure the facility:
"NSG is here. They are carrying out a very deliberative operation. They are trained for it and are the best in the country. I have faith in them," Major General R K Hooda, GOC, Maharashtra area told reporters here. ( Watch )

While the army will carry out the flushing-out operations in Taj hotel, the specialised commandos of the National Security guards and the Naval MARCOS will undertake operations at the Trident hotel, where it is believed that the terrorists are holding hostages.

Hooda, the seniormost Army General in Maharashtra, said operation clean-up at the Taj will start from the top floor and the personnel will carry out a room-to-room combing operation.

"There are 365 rooms to be searched. All rooms are closed. Every room has to be opened and searched thoroughly through their own drills, Hooda said.

Army is doing intervention drills by checking each rooms of the hotel. "In case the rooms are locked, we ask occupants to open it. And if they do not, army will carry out intervention drill with due care. They (personnel) are trained for this," he said.
Three of Mumbai's top police officers, chief of ATS Hemant Karkare, encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar and additional commissioner Ashok Kamte, died in the line of duty as they were responding to free hostages and deal with the terrorists.

Canadians, Americans, British, Italians, Swedes, Yemenis, New Zealanders, Spaniards, Turks, a Singaporean and Israelis are included among the hostages taken by the terrorists at various points over the past several hours or are among those freed by Indian authorities. Reports indicate that a British citizen was among those killed, and several more were wounded.

Aussie Dave is liveblogging the situation.

Speculation continues over who was behind the highly coordinated and sprawling attacks:
Some media reports attributed the attack to Lashkar-e-Taiba. There were also unconfirmed reports that some of the terrorists came in by sea. A boat laden with explosives was recovered later at night off the Gateway of India.

Well after midnight, sources said two of the terrorists were shot and wounded at Girgaum in south Mumbai. The two were driving in a commandeered silver-coloured Skoda car. Earlier, these men had sprayed bullets from a police Bolero, outside the Metro Adlabs multiplex.

The attacks occurred at the busiest places. Besides hotels and hospitals, terrorists struck at railway stations, Crawford Market, Wadi Bunder and on the Western Express Highway near the airport. Several of these places are within a one-km radius of the commissioner of police's office.
The New York Times reports that there is disagreement over whether the group claiming responsibility is somehow related to al Qaeda.
An e-mail message to Indian media outlets that claimed responsibility for the bloody attacks in Mumbai on Wednesday night said the militants were from the Deccan Mujahedeen. Almost universally, experts and intelligence officials said that name was unknown.

Deccan is a neighborhood of the Indian city of Hyderabad. The word also describes the middle and south of India, which is dominated by the Deccan Plateau. Mujahedeen is the commonly used Arabic word for holy fighters. But the combination of the two, said Sajjan Gohel, a security analyst in London, is a “front name. This group is nonexistent.”

Some global terrorism experts with experience in South Asia said that, based on the tactics used in the attacks, the group was probably not linked to Al Qaeda — although that assertion was challenged by other experts.

“It’s even unclear whether it’s a real group or not,” said Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the author of the book “Inside Terrorism.”

“It could be a cover name for another group, or a name adopted just for this particular incident,” he said.

That theory was echoed by an Indian security official who spoke in return for anonymity because he was not authorized to be identified and who said the name suggested a link to a group called Indian Mujahedeen implicated in a string of bombing attacks in India killing around 200 people this year alone.
Jihadi groups have been striking at India for years now, and many have used tactics similar to those of al Qaeda - mass casualty attacks against multiple targets simultaneously. The targets of the attacks and the multiple reports of how the terrorists sought to single out Westerners is suggestive as well of sending messages to the Western nations.

My concern is that the size and scope of these attacks was designed to increase tensions between India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers. Pakistan's ISI had been implicated in a terror attack against the Indian embassy in Kabul. The ISI is rife with Islamists who have no love lost for India and are more than willing to engage in rogue operations to further their goals.

Right now, al Qaeda or one of its affiliates is my top candidate for being behind the attacks, followed by a group with connections to the ISI. Should the latter be the case, South Asia faces serious repercussions and the region could become engulfed in a major conflict.

Also, what these so-called experts don't want to take into account is the possibility that the terrorists might change their tactics to confuse and confound the security forces arrayed against them.

Via Thanos at LGF, it appears that the situation at Chabad House has not ended well. At least eight Israelis were being held in the building, and commando operations were underway. Other reports indicate 10-15 Israelis were being held hostage.

The photo is courtesy of Ynetnews, and gives people some idea of the logistics involved in carrying out the operation to secure the building as well as how the terrorists may have chosen the target.

As I was suggesting yesterday, it appears that the attacks may have been designed to thwart talks and closer relations between India and Pakistan.
“This looks like LeT and the groups it spawned," the official said, referring to the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and its affiliated groups such as Harkat ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI), the Indian Mujahideen, and the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The official cautioned that it is too soon to know who exactly was behind the strikes, but the attacks have similar characteristics of past attacks by these groups.

Indian intelligence claims HuJI-B created a front group called the Indian Mujahideen to confuse investigators and cover the tracks of the Students' Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, a radical Islamist movement. The group receives support from Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence and is an al Qaeda affiliate. SIMI provides logistical support for attacks in India.

These terror groups have been implicated in numerous mass-casualty attacks in New Delhi, Mumbai, Samjhauta, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Assam, and Uttar Pradesh over the past several years. Thousands of Indians were killed or wounded in the attacks.
Based on ongoing developments at the Chabad House, it appears that the terrorists are affiliated with HuJI. That's based on the fact that the terrorists are speaking in Punjabi and may have originated in Karachi (Pakistan). That further reinforces the notion that the attacks were meant to thwart closer Indian-Pakistani relations.

Barcepundit has still more on the developing situation in Mumbai. Memeorandum has a wide ranging roundup of blog reaction.

Hot Air starts running through the list of terrorist groups that could have carried out these heinous attacks, and also how the pressure on the Indian government to respond could shape their view on who carried out the attacks.

India is being urged not to blame Pakistan for the attacks. Others are calling for restraint. The Israeli embassy has said between 10-20 Israeli nationals were taken hostage as part of the attacks, and some reports are indicating between three and seven were murdered by the terrorists. Over 125 people were murdered by the terrorists, and I have to believe that the death toll will continue to rise as the authorities come to grips with the scope of the attacks.
According to hospital sources quoted by the Press Trust of India, nine foreign nationals were among the dead -- including a Japanese businessman, an Australian, a Briton, a German and an Italian.

Americans, French, Israelis and Canadians were said to be among those held or trapped .

There was a separate hostage situation at an office-residential complex, housing a Jewish centre where a rabbi and his family were being held by gunmen.

Guests who escaped the hotels recounted how the gunmen had specifically tried to round up US and British citizens.
There are several photos now coming out showing the terrorists, and my first impression is that some of them appear to be quite young - teenagers at best. This photo shows that one of the terrorists was carrying some kind of automatic rifle, but also a backpack. Many reports indicate that the terrorists were heavily armed and carried lots of ammo, grenades, and explosives.

Also, it's quite possible that the terrorists could have killed far more people had they managed to blow up a gas station near where one of the bomb attacks took place in Coilaba.

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