x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Gunmen target hotels across Mumbai

Gunfire and explosions at locations across India's financial capital.

Luxury hotels targeted where witnesses say gunmen sought out UK and US passport holders.

Mumbai police stand guard after shootings took place inside a railway station in Mumbai.
Mumbai police stand guard after shootings took place inside a railway station in Mumbai.

At least 80 people were killed and more than 100 injured in a series of attacks in Mumbai late yesterday, with police reporting gunfire and explosions at different sites across India's financial capital. Television channels said Westerners were being held hostage at two five-star hotels. A witness to the attack at the Taj Mahal hotel said the gunmen looked for British and US passport holders. "They wanted anyone with British or American passports," the man, who said he was from London and was in India on business, told the NDTV news channel. He had smoke stains all over his face. "They wanted foreigners." Troops began moving into one of the hotels, the Oberoi, local television said. Flames and a massive plume of smoke engulfed the Taj Mahal hotel, following an encounter between police and gunmen holding foreign guests hostage. Police said at least 250 people were wounded in the series of Mumbai attacks which, apart from the hotels, targeted hospitals and railway stations as well as the Cafe Leopold, perhaps the most famous restaurant and hang-out for tourists in the city. The Indian home minister Shivraj Patil said there were around four or five attackers in each of the two hotels. "They have attacked hotels, they have attacked the hospitals, they have attacked the railway station," he said, adding that two attackers had been killed and two arrested. AN Roy, chief of Maharashtra state police, told local television: "These are terrorist strikes in at least seven places. Unknown terrorists have gone with automatic weapons and opened fire indiscriminately." Mr Roy said police were continuing to battle the gunmen. "The terrorists have used automatic weapons and in some places grenades have been lobbed, the encounters are still going on and we are trying to overpower them," he said. An organisation calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen claimed it was behind attacks, television channels said. The gunmen also attacked the crowded Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus station and police headquarters in south Mumbai, the area where most of the attacks took place. Hemant Karkare, the chief of the police anti-terrorist squad in Mumbai, was killed during the attacks, police said. "We are under fire, there is shooting at the gate," A Shetti, a constable, told the Associated Press by phone from police headquarters. The motive for the attacks was not immediately clear, but Mumbai has frequently been targeted in terror attacks, including a series of blasts in July 2007 that killed 187 people. "It was really scary. It was like the sound of loud crackers, not one but several, we just ran out of there," said Janice Sequeira, a tourist who had been at a restaurant in the Taj Mahal Hotel. Several European lawmakers were among those inside the hotel. Sajjad Karim told Britain's Press Association news agency that he and several other lawmakers were barricaded inside the hotel. "I was in the lobby of the hotel when gunmen came in and people started running," he told the Press Association by phone from the basement of the hotel. "A gunman just stood there spraying bullets around, right next to me. I managed to turn away, and I ran into the hotel kitchen," he said. Mr Karim was part of a delegation of European lawmakers visiting Mumbai ahead of a forthcoming EU-India summit. The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, "unreservedly" condemned the attack. "Today's attacks in Mumbai which have claimed many innocent victims remind us, yet again, of the threat we face from violent extremists," he said. I condemn these attacks unreservedly. In Washington, the White House condemned the attacks. France, current president of the European Union, also condemned the attacks and hostage-takings. In the UAE, a spokesman for Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi said the situation was being closely monitored and security would likely be tightened as a result of the attacks. "The safety of the public is paramount," he said. Flights between Mumbai and Abu Dhabi were expected to depart as scheduled early this morning and later today. Emirates Airline confirmed all of its flights were operating as scheduled. Late last night the consul general of India in Dubai, Venu Rajamony, said it was too early to say what the UAE mission's response to the attacks would be. "We have not heard anything official at this point? we have had no official advice from India." India has witnessed a series of co-ordinated attacks in recent months. A little-known Islamic group, the Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahedeen, claimed responsibility for serial blasts last month in India's north-east state of Assam that claimed nearly 80 lives. A total of 12 explosions shook the insurgency-hit north-eastern state, six of them ripping through crowded areas in the main city of Guwahati. Six weeks earlier, the capital New Delhi had been hit by a series of bombs in crowded markets that left more than 20 dead. Those blasts were claimed by a group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen. * The National, with agencies