Indian forces fight last gunmen in hotel
By RAVI NESSMAN,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 5 minutes ago
MUMBAI, India - Fire and smoke poured from the landmark Taj Mahal hotel early Saturday as Indian forces clashed with suspected Muslim militants making a last stand, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found six hostages dead.
Flames engulfed a corner of the building's ground floor and dark smoke billowed from windows amid a steady stream of gunfire as Indian commandos intensified a counterattack against holed-up gunmen.
More than 150 people were killed in the violence that started when assailants attacked 10 sites across India's financial capital Wednesday night. Fifteen foreigners were among the dead.
The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center. Their son, Moshe, who turned 2 on Saturday, was scooped up by an employee Thursday as she fled the building.
Authorities scrambled to identify those responsible for the unprecedented attack, with Indian officials pointing across the border at rival Pakistan, and Pakistani leaders promising to cooperate in the investigation. A team of FBI agents was ordered to fly to India to investigate the attacks.
With the fighting stretching into a third day, commandos killed the last two gunmen inside the luxury Oberoi hotel, where 24 bodies had been found, authorities said. Dozens of people _ including a man clutching a baby and about 20 airline crew members _ were evacuated from the Oberoi earlier Friday.
As fighting stretched into a fourth day Saturday, the Taj Mahal hotel was wracked by hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions, even though authorities said earlier they cleared it of gunmen.
Indian forces launched grenades and traded gunfire with what authorities believed was one or two militants holed up in the ballroom. What appeared to be a black-clad figure toppled from a first-floor window, but further details were unavailable.
The capture of the hotel would mark the end of one of the most brazen terror attacks in India's history.
By Friday evening, at least nine gunmen had been killed and one arrested, said R. Patil, a top official in Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is the capital.
In the most dramatic of the counterstrikes Friday morning, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish center as snipers laid down cover fire.
For nearly 12 hours, explosions and gunfire erupted from the five-story building as the commandos fought their way downward, while thousands of people gathered behind barricades in the streets to watch.
The assault blew huge holes in the center, and, at one point, Indian forces fired a rocket at the building.
Soon after, elated commandos ran outside with their rifles raised over their heads in a sign of triumph.
But inside the Chabad House was a scene of tragedy.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 1 TV that the bodies of three women and three men were found at the center. Some of the victims had been bound, Barak said.
Local media reports, quoting top military officials, said two gunmen were found dead in the building.
The attackers were well-prepared, apparently scouting some targets ahead of time and carrying large bags of almonds to keep up their energy during a long siege. One backpack found contained 400 rounds of ammunition.
The gunmen moved skillfully through the blood-slickened corridors of the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, switching off lights to confuse the commandos.
Authorities were working to find out who was behind the attacks, claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.
President-elect Barack Obama said he was closely monitoring the situation. "These terrorists who targeted innocent civilians will not defeat India's great democracy, nor shake the will of a global coalition to defeat them," he said in a statement.
India's foreign minister said the blame appeared to point to Pakistan. "According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks," Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.
Jaiprakash Jaiswal, India's home minister, said a captured gunmen had been identified as a Pakistani.
Patil, the Maharashtra state official, said: "It is very clear that the terrorists are from Pakistan. We have enough evidence that they are from Pakistan."
Earlier Friday, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar denied involvement by his country. "I will say in very categoric terms that Pakistan is not involved in these gory incidents."
Associated Press writers Ramola Talwar Badam, Erika Kinetz, Anita Chang and Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report from Mumbai, and Foster Klug and Lara Jakes Jordan contributed from Washington.
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