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WITNESS: Black Cats prowl Taj as gunfight ends Mumbai siege
Sat Nov 29, 2008 3:30am EST
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Phil Smith has been the Reuters Editor for South Asia since 2005. Previously he worked for Reuters in Sydney, Singapore and London. Phil was out on the streets of Mumbai with a reporter's notebook throughout the militant attacks on India's financial capital. In the following story, he describes his vigil outside the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
By Phil Smith
MUMBAI (Reuters) - The gunbattle at Mumbai's famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was finally over after three bloody days, but the dull thud of explosions still vibrated up through the shoes of those standing nearby.
India's crack NSG "Black Cat" commandos went from room to room to secure the battle-scarred old building, mopping up after brazen, coordinated attacks that killed at least 155 people at three sites in the heart of India's financial hub.
The bodycount rose as one last gunfight in the Taj marked the end of the drama, during which scores of foreigners hid terrified in their rooms and many more were taken hostage.
Live television images were jolted by explosions, either from stun grenades or controlled detonations used to destroy ordnance found by the Black Cats as they prowled through the hotel.
The gunbattle ended just after dawn on Saturday.
In the early hours I made my way around to the back of the Taj, where a crack Sikh regiment was stationed.
Stray bullets fizzed as they passed overhead in light rain.
By that stage the story had become a little surreal as tiredness and fear set in, like watching a televised news report with me in it unfold before my own eyes.
After 30 years in journalism I knew it was my job to be there but it was still hard to put aside fears for my own safety.
I couldn't help but be struck by the futility of ducking each time I heard a bullet pass overhead, knowing full well that the bullet was long gone by the time I heard it.
BULLETS, GRENADES AND RATS
It was very quiet and very dark at the back of the Taj. Rats scurried around our ankles as we chatted to the soldiers, who were stretching tired, cramped legs and easing stiff backs.
The language barrier meant it was hard to communicate but it was clear the Sikhs had been on duty for many hours. Unlike them, at least I had been able to enjoy some nap breaks since the drama began to unfold late on Wednesday.
Through the quiet at the back of the building I could hear a lot of gunfire from the front. It seemed to range widely along the length of the corridors at the front rather than from the area around the pool at the back of the complex. Continued...
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WITNESS-Black Cats prowl Taj as gunfight ends Mumbai siege
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