Commandos battle well-trained, ruthless gunmen
By RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM,Associated Press Writer AP - Saturday, November 29
MUMBAI, India - Fighting room-by-room through two luxury hotels, over dozens of bodies and through darkened corridors slick with blood, the commandos came up against well-trained and determined gunmen.
"When we first exchanged fire we could have got the terrorists, but for the hotel guests" in the line of fire, an unidentified member of India's Marine Commando unit told reporters, his face wrapped in a black mask. "The bodies were lying strewn here and there and blood was everywhere."
The Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels _ flagships of Indian luxury and among the best-known destinations for wealthy tourists and the city's elite _ were stormed by the gunmen during a chain of militant attacks across India's financial center that began Wednesday night and left at least 143 people dead.
It was a game of cat and mouse through the hotels' hundreds of rooms, and in many cases the gunmen had the advantage.
"These people were very, very familiar with the hotel layouts and it appears they had carried out a survey before," the commando said.
The gunmen used their knowledge to move skillfully from place to place, thwarting efforts to pin them down. To further confuse the commandos, they switched off lights and plunged the rooms into darkness.
One gunman, who was still roaming the Taj Mahal nearly 48 hours after assault began, was hiding in a ballroom, said army commander Lt. Gen. N. Thamburaj.
"He is moving in two floors, there is a dance floor area where he has cut off all the lights. Sometimes he gets holed up in the rooms and makes that area dark," he said.
The commandos also could not use overwhelming force, fearing that they would hit the hundreds of civilians who were caught in the hotels.
Many guests hid in their rooms until they were rescued. Others were not so lucky.
The gunmen showed "no remorse to anybody, whoever came in front of them they fired," said the commando. "They appeared to be a determined lot, wanting to create and spread terror."
The attacks began Wednesday at about 9:20 p.m. with shooters spraying gunfire across the Chhatrapati Shivaji railroad station, one of the world's busiest terminals. For the next two hours, there was an attack roughly every 15 minutes _ a Jewish center, a tourist restaurant, one hotel, then another, and two attacks on hospitals. There were 10 targets in all.
The gunmen were well trained, well armed and ready for a long siege. One backpack the commandos found had 400 rounds of ammunition inside. Some gunmen carried almonds to eat during a long siege and dollars, rupees and credit cards from local and international banks.
They were armed with assault rifles and hand grenades and knew how to use them.
"It's obvious they were trained somewhere ... not everyone can handle the AK series of weapons or throw grenades like that," the commando said.
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